[Ppnews] Iowa activists drew extensive FBI scrutiny

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 21 15:54:59 EDT 2010


September 20, 2010

Iowa activists drew extensive FBI scrutiny

bpetroski at dmreg.com

The FBI's surveillance of a protest group in Iowa City prior to the 
Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., two years ago was 
far more extensive than initially reported, newly obtained FBI documents show.

Agents staked out the homes of political activists, secretly 
photographed and shot video of them, pored through their garbage, and 
studied their cell phone and motor vehicle records, according to 
records detailing the FBI's counterterrorism investigation.

Federal agents and other law enforcement officers also watched and 
documented the protesters' comings and goings at such places as the 
Iowa City Public Library; the New Pioneer Co-op natural foods store; 
the Red Avocado restaurant and the Deadwood Tavern; and the Wesley 
Center campus ministry of the United Methodist Church.

The FBI's nine-month investigation in 2008 is detailed in more than 
300 pages of documents obtained through the federal Freedom of 
Information Act by David Goodner, a former member of the University 
of Iowa's Antiwar Committee, and provided to The Des Moines Register.

The heavily redacted records indicate the FBI believed the Iowa City 
activists were part of a national network of radicals intent on 
disrupting the Republican convention in St. Paul, as well as the 
Democratic National Convention in Denver. The agency apparently 
learned of the Iowa City group, known as the Wild Rose Rebellion, by 
monitoring its Internet site. Names of most of the activists were 
deleted from the documents before they were released.

Goodner, 29, of Des Moines, who participated in the St. Paul protests 
and who is named in the documents, said the records show the federal 
investigation was a waste of time and taxpayer money.

"There's no evidence presented in hundreds of pages that anybody with 
either the University of Iowa Antiwar Committee or the Wild Rose 
collective had any plans for anything other than a nonviolent, if 
confrontational, direct action street protest at the 2008 Republican 
National Convention," Goodner said. Most of the Iowa City activists 
did not attend the Democratic convention in Denver.

About 25 members of Iowa City activist groups participated in the St. 
Paul demonstrations, but Iowa organizers said they were aware of only 
one Iowa City demonstrator who was arrested. Those charges were 
subsequently dropped.

Eugene O'Donnell, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal 
Justice at City University of New York, cautioned that law 
enforcement faces a balancing act in monitoring political activist groups.

There is a legitimate need for law enforcement to be aware of groups 
that can potentially cause violence and disruption, said O'Donnell, 
an ex-prosecutor and former New York City police officer. But at the 
same time, some law enforcement agencies have had a history of 
overreaching in such investigations, gathering information on groups 
that had neither the capacity nor the intent to use violent means, he added.

"Hindsight is 20-20 on these things. When the threats turn out to be 
empty threats, there is a tendency to say, 'Why did law enforcement 
go in there with such urgency and dedicate such resources?' But 
should there be a failure by law enforcement to protect the public, 
then some folks will be screaming bloody murder about their 
ineptitude and that they were asleep at the switch."

The FBI documents showed the Iowa City investigation began in March 
2008 and was closed in December 2008. The probe ended after agents 
said they had identified an "association with other anarchist 
extremist networks" but found no involvement in "specific criminal activities."

The Register reported last year that the FBI infiltrated the Iowa 
City protest movement in 2008 by planting a paid informant who 
attended meetings and hung out with activists. In addition, 
confidential FBI documents obtained by the newspaper showed an 
undercover deputy from the Ramsey County, Minn., sheriff's department 
traveled to Iowa City to attend an anti-war conference in April 2008.

The Iowa City investigation, directed by the FBI's Omaha office, was 
conducted with the knowledge of then-U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker 
of Des Moines. His office stated its support for opening a criminal 
investigation of the Iowa City political activists "with the use of 
all appropriate investigative techniques to identify any criminal 
activity," according to an FBI document.

The FBI agents conducting the surveillance were assisted by officers 
from the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety, the Iowa 
City Police Department and the Coralville Police Department, FBI 
records show. As many as six agents and officers were involved in 
some surveillance operations.

Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of the FBI's Omaha field office, 
issued a statement today defending his agents'' handling of the Iowa 
City investigation.

"Adherence to the U.S. Constitution and respect for the exercise of 
activities protected by the First Amendment are the foundation upon 
which the FBI conducts its investigations. The FBI initiates 
investigations only when there are allegations or information that 
indicates possible criminal activity or threats to national security.

"In this instance, the FBI Omaha Field Office initiated an 
investigation into allegations that certain individuals were possibly 
going to engage in criminal activity to disrupt the national 
conventions of one or both major political parties. Every 
investigative technique that was employed was authorized under the 
attorney general guidelines and was deemed necessary to resolve the 
allegations," Dun said.

Whitaker, now in private law practice in Des Moines, said last week 
that he was aware the FBI was looking into potential criminal acts 
relating to the 2008 Republican National Convention, "but I don't 
remember any specifics at all."

"We worked very closely with the FBI on a lot of different things and 
interacted. They would ask us if we would work with them to 
investigate potential crimes. That happened all the time," Whitaker 
added. Asked whether the FBI's Iowa City investigation amounted to 
overkill, he declined to comment, saying he was not involved on a 
day-to-day basis in the investigation.

Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said last week that Minnesota 
authorities contacted him in 2008 before the undercover sheriff's 
deputy was dispatched to the anti-war conference. But he said he was 
not aware of the FBI's extensive investigation of the Wild Rose 
Rebellion and other Iowa City activists. He also disputed an FBI 
report stating that one of his officers assisted FBI agents during 
more than four hours of surveillance on a Tuesday night, and said he 
didn't think anyone from his department took part in the operation.

Chuck Green, the university's public safety director, didn't respond 
to a request for comment. But Lt. Shane Kron, a spokesman for the 
Coralville Police Department, said his department routinely 
cooperates with other law enforcement agencies and does not judge the 
nature of the request.

The Wild Rose group, which the FBI described as an "anarchist 
collective," was planning to help organize street blockades to 
disrupt the convention, at which Republicans nominated the 
presidential and vice presidential ticket of U.S. Sen. John McCain of 
Arizona and then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Robert "Ajax" Ehl, an Iowa City anti-war activist who was a Wild Rose 
contact person, said last week that the newly released documents show 
the FBI doesn't understand "either anarchy or the protest movement 
... if they think it's worth going through our garbage." He said most 
people who were members of the group remain involved in social and 
political causes, but not under the Wild Rose banner.

Goodner said he obtained and released the FBI records because he 
thought the public had a right to know about the extent to which the 
government was spying on its own citizens. He described the 
surveillance in Iowa City as overly broad, unnecessary and expensive.

About 3,700 police officers - many in riot gear and some on horses - 
used tear gas, pepper spray and other methods to control protesters 
and quell disturbances outside the St. Paul convention. Some 
protesters shattered windows at retail stores, and others threw urine 
and feces at police, authorities said.

About 800 demonstrators were arrested, although most charges were 
subsequently dismissed. However, four members of a group known as the 
RNC Welcoming Committee still face criminal charges and are scheduled 
to go on trial in October in St. Paul. None is from Iowa.

Randall Wilson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union 
of Iowa, said the new batch of FBI documents shows that 
anti-terrorism forces continue to misdirect their efforts at peace 
activists rather than true terrorists. The Iowa City protesters never 
tried to hide their activities, meeting at the Iowa City Public 
Library, the University of Iowa's Memorial Union and other public places.

"There probably isn't a group more opposed to terrorism than these 
people. Any self-respecting terrorist would not try to bring 
attention to himself by engaging in the type of activities that these 
people do," Wilson said. "The only conclusion is that this is just 
the U.S. government using its investigative powers for political suppression."

The Rev. Paul Shultz, executive director of the Wesley Center in Iowa 
City, said last week that he found it "laughable" to learn that 
surveillance documents show five FBI agents and another officer spent 
nearly 12 hours on a Saturday in 2008 staking out visitors to the 
campus Methodist center. He said he was not aware of anyone gathering 
there to plot illegal activities.

"We have had a variety of lecturers and speakers here. Sometimes 
anti-war people use our building. We have no political stances 
officially, but our building is a resource to the community," Shultz said.
Additional Facts
How FBI plotted to snatch garbage

Intelligence operation: The FBI efforts to gather intelligence about 
Iowa City activists in 2008 included a carefully planned effort to 
obtain their garbage. FBI agents found the home addresses for 
activists, learned the days the homes were scheduled for curbside 
trash pickup, and made plans to snatch up the trash overnight or in 
the early-morning hours.
Privacy issues: "The trash will only be obtained when it is located 
in an area where there is no expectation of privacy, which for these 
two residences is curbside near the street," an FBI memo said. If the 
time frame for obtaining the garbage was not workable, an FBI agent 
planned to obtain the trash from a garbage truck during its normal 
pickup schedule.
Contents not identified: Another FBI memo described how two packages 
of garbage from an activist's residence were retrieved from an Iowa 
City curb and placed in a locked facility. The contents were reviewed 
by two FBI agents, who removed two items and placed them into an 
envelope. Specific information about the two items was deleted from 
federal documents prior to their release under the Freedom of Information Act.

Anti-war surveillance in Iowa
The FBI has a history of conducting surveillance on political groups 
in Iowa over the past decade.
In November 2003, the Polk County Sheriff's Department sent two 
undercover officers to monitor an anti-war conference at Drake 
University in Des Moines. Sheriff's officials said they had no plans 
to spy on the local peace movement. Instead, authorities wanted to 
learn about potential problems in a protest planned for the next day 
at Iowa National Guard headquarters in Johnston.
In February 2004, federal authorities launched an investigation into 
the November anti-war conference at Drake. They issued grand jury 
subpoenas to four peace activists and to the university, asking for 
records of a student law group that sponsored the event. Prosecutors 
also obtained a gag order on Drake employees.
Less than a week after the federal investigation became public, the 
U.S. attorney's office in Des Moines withdrew the gag order and the 
subpoenas without explanation.
In August 2004, a young FBI informant from Florida named "Anna" 
attended an anarchist conference in Des Moines, where she met a 
California activist named Eric T. McDavid, according to federal court 
documents. McDavid would later be arrested and convicted for 
conspiring to blow up a Northern California dam, a genetics lab, cell 
phone towers and other targets. "Anna" testified as a key witness at 
McDavid's trial in Sacramento, Calif.

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