FBI spies on peaceniks: documents

An ACLU press release, March 14:

PITTSBURGH – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania today released new evidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting investigations into a political organizations based solely on its anti-war views.

Two documents released today reveal that the FBI investigated gatherings of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice just because the organization opposed the war in Iraq. Although previously disclosed documents show that the FBI is retaining files on anti-war groups, these documents are the first to show conclusively that the rationale for FBI targeting is the group’s opposition to the war.

“It makes no sense that the FBI would be spying on peace activists handing out flyers,‿ said Jim Kleissler, Executive Director of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice. “Our members were simply offering leaflets to passersby, legally and peacefully, and now they’re being investigated by a counter–terrorism unit. Something is seriously wrong in how our government determines who and what constitutes terrorism when peace activists find themselves targeted.‿

According to the documents released today, the FBI initiated a classified investigation into the activities of the Thomas Merton Center, noting in a November 2002 memo that the center “holds daily leaflet distribution activities in downtown Pittsburgh and is currently focused on its opposition to the potential war on Iraq.‿ The synopsis of the document is provided to “report results of investigation on Pittsburgh anti-war activities.‿ The FBI memo points out that the Merton Center “is a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism.‿

“All over the country we see the FBI monitoring and keeping files on Americans exercising their First Amendment rights to free expression,‿ said Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “These documents show that Americans are not safe from secret government surveillance, even when they are handing out flyers in the town square – an activity clearly protected by the Constitution.‿

The documents come to the ACLU as a result of a national campaign to expose domestic spying by the FBI and other government agencies. The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act requests in 20 states on behalf of more than 150 organizations and individuals. In response to these requests, the government has released documents that reveal monitoring and infiltration by the FBI and local law enforcement, targeting political, environmental, anti-war and faith-based groups.

“From the FBI to the Pentagon to the National Security Agency this administration has embarked on an unprecedented campaign to spy on innocent Americans,‿ said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the national ACLU. “Investigating law-abiding groups and their members simply because of their political views is not only irresponsible, it has a chilling effect on the vibrant tradition of dissent in this country.‿

More information about the ACLU’s Spy Files project including the documents released today as well as profiles of members of the Thomas Merton Center is available online at www.aclu.org/spyfiles

See our last posts on the new police state and the surveillance scandal. See also our last posts on the anti-war movement and repression in Pittsburgh.

  1. Satellite surveillance of your church, mosque or synagogue
    From Knight-Ridder, March 18:

    WASHINGTON — A Pentagon intelligence agency that kept files on U.S. anti-war activists hired one of the contractors who bribed former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., to help it collect data on houses of worship, schools, power plants and other locations in the United States.

    MZM, headed by Mitchell Wade, also received three contracts totaling more than $250,000 to provide unspecified “intelligence services” to the White House, according to documents obtained by Knight Ridder.

    The White House didn’t respond to an inquiry about what those intelligence services entailed.

    MZM’s Pentagon and White House deals were part of tens of millions of dollars in federal government business that Wade’s company attracted beginning in 2002.

    MZM and Wade, who pleaded guilty last month to bribing Cunningham and unnamed Defense Department officials to steer work to his firm, are the focus of investigations by the Pentagon and Department of Justice.

    In February 2003, MZM won a two-month contract worth $503,144 to provide technical support to the Pentagon’s Joint Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA. The top-secret agency was created five months earlier primarily to protect U.S. defense personnel and facilities from foreign terrorists.

    The job involved advising CIFA on selecting software and technology designed to ferret out commercial and government data that could be used in what’s called a Geospatial Information System (GIS). A GIS system inserts information about geographic locations, such as buildings, into digital maps produced from satellite photographs.

    MZM was to “assist the government in identifying and procuring data” on maps, “airports, ports, dams, churches/mosques/synagogues, schools [and] power plants,” said the statement of work.

    It isn’t clear why U.S. intelligence agencies couldn’t do the work themselves.

    CIFA recently has come under fire after disclosures that it maintained information on individuals and groups involved in peaceful anti-war protests at defense facilities and recruiting offices.

    The information was stored in a database that was supposed to be reserved for reports related to potential foreign terrorist activity.

    The disclosure that CIFA was storing information on anti-war activities added to concerns that the Bush administration may have used its war on terrorism to give government agencies expanded power to monitor Americans’ finances, associations, travel and other activities.

    The administration’s domestic-eavesdropping program and FBI monitoring of environmental, animal rights and anti-war groups have also fueled fears. The administration contends that its programs are legal.