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