[Ppnews] FBI Keeps Watch on Activists

Political Prisoner News PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Mar 27 12:17:02 EST 2006

 From the Los Angeles Times

FBI Keeps Watch on Activists

Antiwar, other groups are monitored to curb 
violence, not because of ideology, agency says.
By Nicholas Riccardi
Times Staff Writer

March 27, 2006

DENVER ­ The FBI, while waging a highly 
publicized war against terrorism, has spent 
resources gathering information on antiwar and 
environmental protesters and on activists who 
feed vegetarian meals to the homeless, the agency's internal memos show.

For years, the FBI's definition of terrorism has 
included violence against property, such as the 
window-smashing during the 1999 Seattle protests 
against the World Trade Organization. That 
definition has led FBI investigations to online 
discussion boards, organizing meetings and 
demonstrations of a wide range of activist 
groups. Officials say that international 
terrorists pose the greatest threat to the nation 
but that they cannot ignore crimes committed by some activists.

"It's one thing to express an idea or such, but 
when you commit acts of violence in support of 
that activity, that's where our interest comes 
in," said FBI spokesman Bill Carter in Washington.

He stressed that the agency targeted individuals 
who committed crimes and did not single out 
groups for ideological reasons. He cited the 
recent arrest of environmental activists accused 
of firebombing an unfinished ski resort in Vail. 
"People can get hurt," Carter said. "Businesses can be ruined."

The FBI's encounters with activists are described 
in hundreds of pages of documents obtained by the 
American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom 
of Information Act after agents visited several 
activists before the 2004 political conventions. 
Details have steadily trickled out over the last 
year, but newly released documents provide a fuller view of some FBI probes.

"Any definition of terrorism that would include 
someone throwing a bottle or rock through a 
window during an antiwar demonstration is 
dangerously overbroad," ACLU staff attorney Ben 
Wizner said. "The FBI will have its hands full 
pursuing antiwar groups instead of truly dangerous organizations."

ACLU attorneys say most violence during 
demonstrations is minor and is better handled by 
local police than federal counterterrorism 
agents. They say the FBI, which spied on antiwar 
and civil rights leaders during the 1960s, 
appears to be investigating activists solely for opposing the government.

"They don't know where Osama bin Laden is, but 
they're spending money watching people like me," 
said environmental activist Kirsten Atkins. Her 
license plate number showed up in an FBI 
terrorism file after she attended a protest 
against the lumber industry in Colorado Springs in 2002.

ACLU attorneys acknowledge that the FBI memos are 
heavily redacted and contain incomplete portraits 
of some cases. Still, the attorneys say, the 
documents show that the FBI has monitored groups 
that were not suspected of any crime.

"It certainly seems they're casting a net much 
more widely than would be necessary to thwart 
something like the blowing up of the Oklahoma 
City federal building," said Mark Silverstein, 
legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.

FBI officials respond that there is nothing 
improper about agents attending a meeting or demonstration.

"We have to be able to go out and look at things; 
we have to be able to conduct an investigation," 
said William J. Crowley, a spokesman for the FBI 
in Pittsburgh. His field office filed a report ­ 
released by the ACLU this month ­ in which an 
agent described photographing Pittsburgh 
activists who were handing out fliers for a war 
protest. The report mentioned no potential violence or crimes.

Crowley said his office had been looking for a 
certain person in that case and had closed the 
file when it realized the suspect was not among those handing out the leaflets.

The murky connection that the federal government 
makes between some left-wing activist groups and 
terrorism was illustrated in a Justice Department 
presentation to a college law class this month.

An FBI counterterrorism official showed the 
class, at the University of Texas in Austin, 35 
slides listing militia, neo-Nazi and Islamist 
groups. Senior Special Agent Charles Rasner said 
one slide, labeled "Anarchism," was a federal 
analyst's list of groups that people intent on terrorism might associate with.

The list included Food Not Bombs, which mainly 
serves vegetarian food to homeless people, and ­ 
with a question mark next to it ­ Indymedia, a 
collective that publishes what it calls radical 
journalism online. Both groups are among the 
numerous organizations affiliated with anarchists 
and anti-globalization protests, where there has been some violence.

Elizabeth Wagoner said she was one of the few 
students who objected to the groups' inclusion on 
the list. "My friends do Indymedia," she said. "My friends aren't terrorists."

Rasner said that he'd never heard of the two 
groups before and didn't mean to condemn them. 
But he added that it made sense to worry about 
violent people emerging from anarchist networks ­ 
"Any group can have somebody that goes south."

Denver, where the ACLU fought a lengthy court 
battle with local police over its spying on 
political groups, has the most extensive records 
of encounters between the FBI and activists. 
Documents obtained by the ACLU there revealed how 
agents monitored the lumber industry 
demonstration, an antiwar march and an anarchist 
group that activists say was never formed.

In June 2002, environmental activists protested 
the annual meeting of the North American 
Wholesale Lumber Assn. in Colorado Springs. An 
FBI memo justified opening an inquiry into the 
protest because an activist training camp was to 
be held on "nonviolent methods of forest defense 

 security culture, street theater and banner making."

About 30 to 40 people attended the protest; three 
were arrested for trespassing while hanging a 
political banner. Colorado Springs police faxed 
the FBI a three-page list of demonstrators' license plate numbers.

In a recent interview, Denver FBI spokeswoman 
Monique R. Kelso first said the training camp and 
protest would not have been enough to merit an 
anti-terrorism inquiry. But later she said that 
she wasn't familiar with the details of the case 
and that the FBI opened cases when there was possible criminal activity.

The FBI's Denver office also monitored a February 
2003 antiwar demonstration in Colorado Springs. A 
bureau memo said that activists planned to block 
streets and an Air Force base entrance, and that 
a more "radical" faction had announced online 
that it would meet near the demonstration but 
break away for unspecified purposes. The memo 
said an agent would watch the breakaway group and 
report to local police and FBI agents monitoring the march.

FBI officials say there was additional 
information, which they cannot disclose, that 
justified a terrorism investigation of that 
protest. They stress that they have to be 
aggressive in investigating terrorism in the post-Sept. 11 world.

"There's a lot of responsibility on the FBI," 
said Joe Airey, head of the FBI's Joint Terrorism 
Task Force in Denver. "We have a real obligation 
to make sure there are no additional terrorist acts on this soil."

Denver-area activists said that since the 
surveillance documents became public, there had 
been a subtle chill, with some people avoiding 
protests for fear of ending up in an FBI file. 
Some activists think the FBI has been watching their groups to intimidate them.

"We've kind of gathered up our skirts and pulled 
in," said Sarah Bardwell, who works for the 
American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker 
group. Along with some activist roommates, she 
has also volunteered for Food Not Bombs.

"In our house, we don't talk about politics 
anymore," Bardwell said. "There's been a toning down of everything we do."

That change came after six FBI agents and Denver 
police officers visited her house in July 2004.

Months earlier, the FBI had obtained a flier 
advertising a meeting near Bardwell's house to 
form a chapter of Anarchist Black Cross. That 
movement has two wings; one, according to the 
FBI, has been associated with "some of the most 
violent left-wing groups of the past 40 years."

The organizer of the meeting, Dawn Rewolinski, 
said the prospective chapter would have been part 
of the movement's other wing, which writes 
letters to prisoners. The chapter was never 
established, Rewolinski said. "All we did is eat 
some cookies and talk about various prisoners and 
realize we didn't have enough money for a P.O. box."

Nonetheless, FBI investigators believed a Denver 
chapter had been launched. They discovered that 
Anarchist Black Cross was affiliated with Food 
Not Bombs, and authorities ended up on Bardwell's 
doorstep, asking about the anarchists' plans for 
protests at the upcoming Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Kelso, the FBI spokeswoman, said there were 
documents that could not be released to the ACLU 
that showed good reasons for the government's 
concern. She dismissed the idea that agents were 
spying on activists for political reasons.

"We don't have enough agents," Kelso said, "to go 
out there to monitor and surveil innocent people."

The Freedom Archives
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