Tuesday, February 17, 2004


Each new incursion against dissent under George W. Bush needs to be placed in context with the outlandish policy of Ashcroft's Justice Department and his associates in the FBI and JTTP (Joint Terrorism Task Force). Let's not forget the nakedly totalitarian proposal Ashcroft made, after 9/11, to enlist Americans to spy on one another. Apparently, we were spared the Orwellian Nightmare of one minder for each adult; owing to the fact that senior congressional figures cried out sharply that such a proposal was, in no respect, American.

During the last few days, much emphasis has been put on the Drake University case. Prosecutors in the current administration made a concerted effort to subpoena records from university sources at the Iowa school. They did this by conflating a trespassing case (a protest staged at Iowa National Guard headquarters) with a protest forum that took place at Drake University on the previous day. The campus chapter of the National Lawyer's Guild soon discovered that its membership information was sought by the federal authority and that four protesters were being brought before a grand jury, by subpoena. A potent outcry by journalists, webloggers, and Lawyer's Guild officials caused a quick reversal of this action and a dropping of the subpoenas.

The programic aspect of this assault on liberty is superbly presented in Salon articles by Michelle Goldberg: Outlawing Dissent, and her companion piece A thousand J. Edgar Hoovers. She makes her readers aware of monetary incentives , federal money dispersed to local police to infiltrate protest groups and harass certain activists. Ms. Goldberg also exposes dangerously unsophisticated police attitudes toward protesters, as well as a similar approach by some departments to dissent itself.

In Fresno County, California, a police infiltrator was killed in a motorcycle accident and his double-identity was subsequently discovered.

"Peace Fresno has since been assured by the Fresno Sheriff's Department that it is not under investigation and never has been under investigation. That may be true in some bureaucratic sense, but the fact remains that an anti-terrorism agent spent half a year surveilling them"...[according to Peace Fresno organizer, Nicholas DeGraff] 'It's equating dissent with terrorism'...'It's saying if you dissent, you're a terrorist'."

"In fact, that's exactly what some law enforcement officers have said."

"On April 2 of last year, the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, which is under the auspices of the state Justice Department but whose regional task forces include FBI agents, issued a bulletin warning police about potential violence at an anti-war protest scheduled for the port of Oakland. An Oakland Tribune investigation found that the Anti-Terrorism Information Center had little substantive information regarding possible violence. 'Intelligence records released under open-government laws reveal the thinking of CATIC and Oakland intelligence officials,' said a June 1 story by Ian Hoffman, Sean Holstege and Josh Richman. The agencies, they wrote, 'blended solid facts, innuendo and inaccurate information about anti-war protesters expected at the port'."

"The protest did in fact turn violent, but according to documentary evidence the violence was precipitated by the police, who fired on demonstrators with wooden bullets and beanbags. The Tribune reported that, according to videotapes and transcripts of radio transmissions of the event, there's no evidence of 'protesters throwing objects at the police or engaging in civil disobedience until 20 minutes after police opened fire'."

"So why was the warning issued in the first place? In an interview with the Tribune, Mike Van Winkle, spokesman for the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, issued a remarkably broad definition of terrorism. 'You can make an easy link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war against international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that protest,'...You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act'." [my italics]

"Of course, whether Van Winkle actually believes that anti-war protesters are as dangerous to the citizens of California as al-Qaida is impossible to say. But it's not just rhetorical excess or fascistic impulses that lead officials to speak of demonstrators as terrorists. They may actually have a bureaucratic and financial incentive to do so."

" 'This is a good way for police officers to get terrorism points,' says Timothy Edgar, legislative counsel for the ACLU. 'They have to justify the dollars they're receiving from the federal government for homeland security. We've seen a massive inflation of terrorist statistics on the federal level. Every Arab with a phony driver's license is now called a terrorist by the Justice Department.' "

" 'This is a perfect example of not learning the lessons of 9/11.' he continues. 'The FBI was not sufficiently focused on the possibility that a group like al-Qaida would commit a serious terrorist attack. One real failure since 9/11 is that, when they call everything a 'terrorist', they're still not sufficiently focused on actual terrorists. There's an overbroad definition of domestic terrorism in the PATRIOT Act, and it's had a spillover effect into state and local governments who want to justify their anti-terrorism funding and mission'."

Michelle Goldberg also gives her essay a sobering historical perspective, that parallels the Vietnam and Iraq protest experiences.

"In the early 1970s, after the exposure of COINTELPRO, a program of widespread FBI surveillance and sabotage of political dissidents, reforms were put into place to prevent government from spying on political groups when there was no suspicion of criminal activity. But once again, protesters throughout America are being watched, often by police who are supposed to be investigating terrorists"..."It' too early to tell if America is entering a repeat of the COINTELPRO era. But Jeffrey Fogel, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Law in Manhattan, says, 'There are certainly enough warning signs out there that we may be'."

"Such local, community-based spying is nothing new. In the 60s and 70s, says the ACLU's legislative counsel, Timothy Edgar, local police established counterintelligence squads that mimicked COINTELPRO -- and they were actually responsible for the harassment of activists."

" 'Most people who have any memory of the civil rights era and may have attended a demonstration and been observed by government, the people who were tracking what they were doing, nine times out of 10 that would have been a state or local intelligence squad, not the FBI, says Edgar, 'It's really many J. Edgar Hoovers that pose the greatest threat to civil liberties'."

In her essay, Goldberg reports that Joint Terrorism Task Force printouts of activist websites were obtained from the intelligence unit of the Police Department in Denver, by the Colorado ACLU. And she refers to a leaked FBI memo which was revealed last November in a New York Times article. Both the printouts from April 2002 and November's FBI memo implicate the local JTTFs in the investigation of protest activity, making it clear that local police are being advised to report to them. The parties under scrutiny in the Denver case, were the American Friends Service Committee, the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, the Rocky Mountain Independent Media Center and Denver's Justice and Peace Committee.


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