[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
By WILLIAM PETROSKI
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
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
"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.
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
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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the PPnews