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Sunday, September 04, 2005

That '60's Show 

Courtesy of our rumbustious colleague the Heretik: As you know from previous reports (here, here, and here), the California National Guard is under investigation for dabbling in domestic surveillance -- specifically, collecting intelligence on a Mother's Day antiwar protest organized by Gold Star Families for Peace. John S. Friedman reports in The Nation that the National Guard, the FBI, and the FBI-managed Joint Terrorism Task Forces are engaged in "a coordinated federal effort" to spy on American citizens -- including, in an acid flashback to the bad old days before Frank Church, the infiltration of campus activist groups:

Democratic State Senator Joseph Dunn, whose budget subcommittee oversees funding for the California Guard and who is conducting the state investigation, said financial improprieties may have occurred, as state and federal laws forbid such activities. Dunn told The Nation that he is looking into reports that the Guard in some ten other states, including New York, Colorado, Arizona and Pennsylvania, may have set up its own intelligence units and conducted similar monitoring of antiwar groups. Such controversial directives could be coming from the Pentagon, he speculated . . . .

Troubled by an increase in domestic spying, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in May against the FBI to force the release of files on numerous activists and groups in about ten states, charging that "the FBI and local police are engaging in intimidation based on political association and are improperly investigating law-abiding human rights and advocacy groups." The ACLU's request, which also asks for information about the practices and funding of the JTTFs (currently there are about 110), is a Who's Who of national and local advocates for well-known causes, including antiwar, environmental, labor, fair trade and human rights causes.

The few documents received to date shed light on the FBI's misuse of the JTTFs to engage in political surveillance. For example, FBI documents obtained by the Colorado ACLU reveal that in July 2004, FBI agents and members of the Denver Police Department, dressed in SWAT gear, questioned 21-year-old Sarah Bardwell, an American Friends Service Committee intern who was also active in Food Not Bombs, at her home "to conduct pretext interviews to gain general information." These documents, said Mark Silverstein, Colorado ACLU legal director, "confirm that the FBI was more interested in intimidation than in trying to gather information." In another example a student and two former students at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, who were planning to go to the Democratic convention last summer, were questioned by the FBI and subpoenaed by a grand jury. Although never charged with any crime, they were under twenty-four-hour FBI surveillance for almost a week afterward. "The subpoenas and surveillance were not to get information but to harass and intimidate them," said Denise Lieberman, former ACLU legal director in eastern Missouri. "It worked. It was very frightening."

This past November, several days after George W. Bush's election, an FBI agent and plainclothes officers from the Raleigh, North Carolina, police department came to the residence of Brad Goodnight, a 21-year-old student majoring in computer science and psychology at North Carolina State University. He went with them to police headquarters, where he was asked about specific friends, about his role in Campus Greens, Food Not Bombs and other organizations, and whether he recognized photos of people in the audience at a local punk rock concert. His interrogation was apparently related to an earlier protest rally near Republican headquarters, where vandalism had occurred and three people were arrested. Goodnight said he was told, "We have paid informers and treat them well." He was warned that if he didn't agree to cooperate he would face continued scrutiny. He refused. He had not committed any crime, was not charged with any offense and was soon released. Besides interrogating Goodnight, the FBI knocked on dorm-room doors, and campus police increased their presence at peace vigils, all of which "definitely had a chilling effect," said Elena Everett, a recent NCSU graduate and chair of the North Carolina Green Party. "People, especially international students, didn't feel comfortable speaking out anymore."

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