[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."
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