[News] Probes by FBI called improper

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 21 11:52:25 EDT 2010

Probes by FBI called improper

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; A1

The FBI improperly investigated some left-leaning U.S. advocacy 
groups after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Justice Department said 
Monday, citing cases in which agents put activists on terrorist watch 
lists even though they were planning nonviolent civil disobedience.

A report by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine absolved the FBI of the 
most serious allegation: that domestic groups were targeted purely 
for their activism against the Iraq war and other political activity, 
which would have violated their First Amendment rights. Civil 
liberties groups and congressional Democrats had accused the FBI of 
employing such tactics during George W. Bush's administration.

But the report cited what it called "troubling" FBI practices in the 
Bush administration's monitoring of domestic groups between 2001 and 
2006. In one instance, the report said, FBI officials falsely said an 
agent photographed antiwar demonstrators as part of a terrorism 
investigation, which led FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to 
unintentionally give incorrect information about the incident to Congress.

In another, agents investigated members of the environmental advocacy 
group Greenpeace over their protest activities "with little or no 
basis," the report said. Agents kept the case open for more than 
three years, even though no charges were filed, and put the activists 
on a terrorist watch list, it said.

The groups that were monitored, which also include a Catholic 
organization that advocates for peace, compared the FBI's actions to 
questionable domestic spying tactics the bureau used against antiwar 
demonstrators and others in the 1960s under longtime director J. Edgar Hoover.

"The use of McCarthyite tactics against PETA and other groups that 
speak out against cruelty to animals and exploitative corporate and 
government practices is un-American, unconstitutional, and against 
the interests of a healthy democracy,'' said a statement from People 
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights group that was 
among those monitored.

Ken Wainstein, former head of the Justice Department's national 
security division, said the investigations of the groups reflect the 
FBI's post-Sept. 11 challenge of transforming into an intelligence 
organization able to detect and dismantle terrorist plots.

"This isn't McCarthyism or the excesses of the 1960s,'' he said. 
"This is the Bureau developing the programs to be a fully functioning 
intelligence agency and trying not to step over the First Amendment 
lines in the process.''

FBI officials defended their tactics, saying they were trying to 
protect Americans. They noted that the express purpose of Fine's 
report was to determine whether agents targeted activists purely for 
their political beliefs.

"After more than four years of investigation and an exhaustive review 
of hundreds of investigative decisions the FBI made after the 
September 11 attacks," said FBI spokesman Michael P. Kortan, the 
report "did not uncover even a single instance where the FBI targeted 
any group or any individual based on the exercise of a First 
Amendment right.''

He added that although Fine had "disagreed with a handful of the 
FBI's investigative determinations over the course of six years,'' 
the inspector general "has not recommended any significant 
modifications to the FBI's authority to investigate criminal conduct 
or national security threats.''

The FBI's efforts to balance its fight against domestic terrorism 
with respect for the First Amendment have long been controversial. 
Under Hoover's COINTELPRO program, halted in 1971, the bureau sought 
to monitor and disrupt leftist antiwar and civil rights groups by 
such tactics as infiltrating them with informants.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, that balance has been tested further. Civil 
liberties groups have long accused the bureau of overreacting to the 
hijackings by improperly monitoring antiwar demonstrators and 
environmental groups.

Fine's investigation began in 2006 after the American Civil Liberties 
Union released documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information 
Act, that it said showed that the FBI was monitoring left-leaning groups.

Michael German, an ACLU senior policy counsel and former FBI agent, 
said Fine's report "clearly shows that the FBI was improperly spying 
on people's First Amendment-protected activity, and that the FBI 
didn't have enough internal controls to prevent abuse.''

Fine's report says that in some cases, agents began investigations of 
people affiliated with activist groups for "factually weak" reasons. 
In others, the report said, the FBI extended probes "without adequate 
basis" and improperly kept information about activist groups in its files.

Much of the report is about a 2002 antiwar protest sponsored by the 
Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh-based organization dedicated to 
promoting peace.

Mark Berry, a probationary FBI agent with little anti-terrorism 
experience, attended the rally and photographed demonstrators 
distributing leaflets. An internal FBI document said the bureau was 
investigating "Pittsburgh anti-war activity,'' the report said.

After the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request, FBI 
officials seeking to respond produced an internal "routing slip" 
saying that Berry was monitoring a local Islamic leader and that his 
attendance was part of a terrorism probe.

Berry told Fine's investigators that the routing slip was false, and 
Fine concluded that it was an "after-the-fact reconstruction that was 
not corroborated by any witnesses or contemporaneous documents.'' 
Berry could not be located Monday night.

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