[FoRK] Outlawing dissent: COINTELPRO resurgence
jbone at place.org
jbone at place.org
Sun Mar 7 20:42:43 PST 2004
There was a recent NOW bit re: trends in domestic spying... prompted me
to hunt around a bit, found this --- essentially the same gist.
I love it: the Quakers (American Friends Service Committee) --- a
"criminal extremist" group. Well, hell yeah, that damned philosophy of
"perfect silence" is criminally annoying. ;-)
Civil Rights/Human Rights
Outlawing dissent: Spying on peace meetings, cracking down on
protesters, keeping secret files on innocent people -- how Bush's war
on terror has become a war on freedom
By Michelle Goldberg
Feb 12, 2004, 10:07
A sting-ball grenade thrown by Oakland police, foreground, explodes
over running protesters during an antiwar protest in Oakland, Calif.,
April 7, 2003.
February 11, 2004-The undercover cop introduced herself to the
activists from the Colorado Coalition Against the War in Iraq as Chris
Hoffman, but her real name was Chris Hurley. Last March, she arrived at
a nonviolence training session in Denver, along with another undercover
officer, Brad Wanchisen, whom she introduced as her boyfriend. The
session, held at the Escuela Tlatelolco, a Denver private school, was
organized to prepare activists for a sit-in at the Buckley Air National
Guard Base the next day, March 15. Hurley said she wanted to
participate. She said she was willing to get arrested for the cause of
peace. In fact, she did get arrested. She was just never charged. The
activists she protested with wouldn't find out why for months.
Chris Hurley was just one of many cops all over the country who went
undercover to spy on antiwar protesters last year. Nonviolent antiwar
groups in Fresno, Calif., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Albuquerque, N.M.,
have all been infiltrated or surveilled by undercover police officers.
Shortly after the Buckley protest, the Boulder group was infiltrated a
second time, by another pair of police posing as an activist couple.
Meanwhile, protesters arrested at antiwar demonstrations in New York
last spring were extensively questioned about their political
associations, and their answers were entered into databases. And last
week, a federal prosecutor in Des Moines, Iowa, obtained a subpoena
demanding that Drake University turn over records from an antiwar
conference called "Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!"
that the school's chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, a civil
libertarian legal group, hosted on Nov. 15 of last year, the day before
a protest at the Iowa National Guard headquarters. Among the
information the government sought was the names of the leaders of the
Drake University Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, its records
dating back to January of 2002, and the names of everyone who attended
the "Stop the Occupation!" conference. Four antiwar activists also
received subpoenas in the investigation.
On Tuesday, after a national outcry, the U.S. Attorney's Office
canceled the subpoenas. Still, says Bruce Nestor, a former president of
the National Lawyers Guild who is serving as the Drake chapter's
attorney, "We're concerned that some type of investigation is ongoing."
In the early 1970s, after the exposure of COINTELPRO, a program of
widespread FBI surveillance and sabotage of political dissidents,
reforms were put in place to prevent the 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 terrorism. Civil
disobedience, seen during peaceful times as the honorable legacy of
heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., is being treated as
terrorism's cousin, and the government claims to be justified in
infiltrating any meeting where it's even discussed. It's 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."
As a new round of protests approaches -- including worldwide antiwar
demonstrations on March 20 and massive anti-Bush actions during the
Republican National Convention in August and September -- experts say
the surveillance is likely to increase. "The government is taking an
increasingly hostile stance toward protesters," says Michael Avery,
president of the National Lawyers Guild and a professor of
constitutional law at Suffolk University. In the run-up to the
Republican Convention, he says, "I'm sure the government will be
attempting to infiltrate political groups. They may send agent
provocateurs into political groups. They're no doubt compiling reports
on people. We have to stand up against that."
No one knows the extent of the political spying and profiling currently
being carried out against critics of the Bush administration and
American foreign policy -- which may be the most disturbing thing about
the entire phenomenon. "Presumably if they're doing their jobs well,
we'll never know," says Fogel. Activists have also been unsuccessful at
finding out why they're being watched, and under whose authority.
What we do know, though, is that several of the police departments that
have been accused of spying on protesters -- including the Aurora,
Colo., Police Department, where Hurley works -- are part of Joint
Terrorism Task Forces. These are programs in which local police are
assigned to work full-time with FBI agents and other federal agents "to
investigate and prevent acts of terrorism," as the FBI's Web site says.
According to the FBI, such JTTFs have been around since 1980, but the
total number has almost doubled since Sept. 11, 2001, to 66.
A Polk County deputy sheriff assigned to a Joint Terrorism Task Force
served the subpoenas in Iowa. According to Nestor, the deputy sheriff
even handed out business cards that identified him as part of the JTTF.
On Monday, though, after what Nestor describes as a "tremendous public
reaction" following news reports of the JTTF's involvement, the U.S.
Attorney's Office in Des Moines issued a written statement denying that
the investigation was being conducted by the task force.
The U.S. Attorney's Office confirms that the investigation is a
collaboration between the FBI, the Polk County Sheriff's Department and
the U.S. Attorney's Office -- all of whom, Nestor notes, serve on the
JTTF. It focuses on a case of misdemeanor trespassing on government
property that took place on Nov. 16, near the antiwar protest.
According to Nestor, the case involves someone who "walked up to a
closed gate" outside the National Guard's armory, "had a conversation
with the guards and got charged with trespassing." The police and FBI
are now investigating whether people at the antiwar conference entered
into some kind of conspiracy to break the law -- in other words,
whether they planned acts of civil disobedience.
"They appear to be taking the stance that if any individual, as part of
or in relation to a protest, commits an act that might be a violation
of federal law, that they can subpoena and investigate any records of
any meeting that person may have gone to in the days or even months
proceeding," says Nestor.
Avery suggests that such investigations will have a chilling effect on
the planning for future protests. "The risk is that if there's some
kind of demonstration or protest activity that involves trespassing,
[the JTTF] is saying they can ask people what political meetings have
you been to lately, who was there, what did you talk about," says
Avery. "People are allowed to meet and talk and debate political issues
without being spied on by the government." At least, they used to be.
Whether or not a Joint Terrorism Task Force was behind the Iowa
investigation, JTTFs have already been implicated in political spying.
In a three-ring binder from the Denver Police Department Intelligence
Unit obtained by the Colorado ACLU, a section labeled "Colorado and
Local Links: JTTF Active Case List" contained printouts made in April
2002 from the Web sites of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace,
American Friends Service Committee, Denver Justice and Peace Committee
and the Rocky Mountain Independent Media Center. One of the printouts,
a copy of which is available on the ACLU's Web site, is the American
Friends Service Committee's calendar of upcoming antiwar events.
Last November, the New York Times revealed a leaked FBI memo asking
local police to report protest activity to their local Joint Terrorism
Task Force. The bulletin, sent to law enforcement agencies on Oct. 15,
2003, warned about antiwar protests planned for Oct. 25, saying, "While
the FBI possesses no information indicating that violent or terrorist
activities are being planned as part of these protests, the possibility
exists that elements of the activist community may attempt to engage in
violent, destructive, or dangerous acts."
The bulletin went on to list common protest methods including marches
and sit-ins, as well as "aggressive tactics" used by "extremist
elements," including vandalism, trespassing, physical harassment,
formation of human chains and the use of weapons.
"Even the more peaceful techniques can create a climate of disorder,
block access to a site, draw large numbers of police officers to a
specific location in order to weaken security at other locations,
obstruct traffic, and possibly intimidate people from attending the
events being protested," it warned.
It ended by saying, "Law enforcement agencies should be alert to these
possible indications of protest activity and report any potentially
illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force."
The Colorado activists who attended nonviolence training with Chris
Hurley remember her as shy and timid. She didn't arouse suspicion at
either the training session, where people practiced staying calm even
when confronted by aggressive police, or the next day, when she showed
up at the demonstration.
On March 15, around 300 people protested near the Buckley base, but
only 18 (not including Hurley) engaged in civil disobedience by sitting
in the road and blocking the base's entrance. The action was no secret
-- the Colorado Coalition Against the War had informed police of what
it intended to do in advance. "We always have a police liaison when we
have a civil disobedience," says participant Terry Leichner, a
54-year-old psychiatric social worker and veteran activist. "We always
work with police so there's no violence."
The Aurora Police Department doesn't deny that the activists told them
exactly what they planned to do. Indeed, they use that fact as a
rationale for infiltrating the group. "Prior to the actual protest,
this group came to the police department and told us they were going to
conduct criminal acts in our city," says Kathleen Walsh, the Aurora
Police Department's public information officer. "We have a
responsibility to the citizens of Aurora to investigate." Walsh insists
that the activists' willingness to tell the police their plans didn't
mitigate the need to spy on the group. "Can you guarantee me that
people don't lie to police?" she said. Walsh asked that further
questions -- including those about Hurley's connection to
counterterrorism investigations -- be submitted in writing. She has yet
to answer them.
Having been warned in advance, the police arrived quickly to remove the
Buckley demonstrators. They wore riot gear, but didn't need it -- the
protesters, including Hurley, were arrested without incident, and the
whole thing was over in an hour. All 19 arrestees were taken to a
holding cell, where the activists say Hurley seemed nervous. Nancy
Peters, a 56-year-old protest organizer, recalls trying to comfort her,
but Hurley didn't say much. While the rest of the group exchanged
stories, Leichner says, Hurley was "noncommittal." When they were
released, she didn't attend a meeting the activists had to plan legal
strategy, but according to Peters, she asked to be kept informed.
None of the activists found out that Hurley was an Aurora police
officer until the discovery phase of their trials last spring.
By then, though, their lawyers had reason to be suspicious. A month
after the Buckley protest, the Colorado Coalition was infiltrated
again, by an undercover officer from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's
Office, which is also part of a Joint Terrorism Task Force. This time,
the group realized something was up.
On April 14, the activists planned to meet with Republican Sen. Wayne
Allard, a supporter of the war, and ask him to present a "peace
resolution" to Congress. Several of the activists planned to refuse to
leave his office unless he acceded to their demands, which no one
expected him to do.
Peters, who was arrested at Buckley, was one of the organizers of the
Allard action and was going to be on hand to bail out activists taken
to jail. Again, the Colorado Coalition held a nonviolence training
session the day before for those planning to be arrested.
Peters remembers unloading her car outside the church where the
training was held when she saw a couple walking by, looking like they
were "killing time" before finally going inside. The man, a muscular
guy who looked to be in his 30s, introduced himself as Chris Taylor and
said the woman with him was his girlfriend. In fact, his name was
Darren Christensen and he was an undercover officer, as was Liesl
McArthur, the woman he was with. As the Rocky Mountain News reported in
December, much of his usual undercover work involved "being solicited
on line for deviant sex."
Unlike Hurley, Christensen immediately made the activists nervous. "A
couple of people from the group came up and said, 'Who are they? Do you
know them from any other events?'" says Peters. "He was pumping for
information, asking questions about whether there was a group that was
more radical and had a different focus, more like the black bloc or the
At the time, though, it didn't occur to anyone that the police would be
interested in spying on them. So they let Christensen participate, even
after he made what Peters thought was an outlandish suggestion.
"It was in the evening when we were trying to figure out our general
plan," she says. "We didn't know whether the police would be blocking
the entrance to Allard's office." They were discussing whether the six
people planning the sit-in should go in as a group, or one by one, in
order to evade attention. "[Christensen] said, 'Look, why don't we just
walk right through their line?' We were like, whoa, nobody wants to get
their heads blown off," says Peters. "We are peaceful, nonviolent
group. We're not trying to storm a building."
The next day, the group met beforehand to coordinate. Everyone who
planned to get arrested gave Peters bond money, except for Christensen,
who said his girlfriend would bail him out. The six entered Allard's
office at 1 p.m., and by 5 p.m. they'd all been arrested.
"I raced over to the jail," says Peters. "There were several people
there, including his 'girlfriend.' I was trying to find out who'd been
booked and what their bail was, but none had been put into the system
Peters was standing in the jailhouse lobby and talking on a pay phone
when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Christensen walking out the
door. "He had a phony story about how his girlfriend got him out," she
says. "I asked, 'Can I see your summons?' He didn't have one."
Peters passed her concerns on to her group's pro bono defense
attorneys, who soon found that although six people had been arrested,
only five had been charged. Then, while reviewing the Buckley case,
they noticed that while 19 people had been arrested there, only 18 were
charged. Eventually, by subpoenaing police records, the attorneys
figured out that police had sent the undercover agents to infiltrate
Once exposed, Hurley turned up in court to watch the protesters' trials.
"When she came to court, she just seemed so arrogant," says Ellen
Stark, a 57-year-old preschool teacher who is part of the group
arrested at Buckely. "She was not at all apologetic about her
activities and the fact that she had lied to us. She just looked at us
with disdain." None of the activists have been able to get any answers
from officials about why they were being watched. "I couldn't interest
anybody on the Aurora City council to even meet with me," says Stark.
"Nobody would talk to me."
America has seen this kind of thing before. Between 1956 and 1971, the
FBI under J. Edgar Hoover ran COINTELPRO, a program of surveillance and
sabotage against political dissidents. COINTELPRO watched violent
groups like the Ku Klux Klan and, later, the Weather Underground and
the Black Panthers, but it also spied on and harassed thousands of
innocent people, including Martin Luther King Jr.
COINTELPRO's abuses came to light in 1971, when a group of activists
calling themselves the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI broke
into an FBI office in Media, Penn., and stole several hundred pages of
In his recent history of COINTELPRO, "There's Something Happening Here:
The New Left, the Klan and FBI Counterintelligence," David Cunningham
writes, "These files provided the first public disclosure of a range of
Bureau activities against targets such as the Black Panther Party, the
Venceremos Brigade, the Philadelphia Labor Committee, Students for a
Democratic Society, and college students with 'revolutionary'
Eventually, damaging revelations about COINTELPRO led the FBI to adopt
reforms designed to prevent a repeat of Hoover's excesses. Attorney
General Edward Levi laid out a set of standards for FBI domestic
surveillance. "These so-called Levi Guidelines clearly laid out the
criteria required for initiated investigations, establishing a standard
of suspected criminal conduct, meaning activity (rather than merely
ideas or writings, which had been adequate cause for targeting groups
and individuals as subversive during the COINTELPRO era)," Cunningham
writes. "The guidelines also stipulated as acceptable only particular
investigative techniques, making it considerably more difficult to
initiate intrusive forms of surveillance."
The Levi guidelines didn't end all political spying -- in the 1980s,
the FBI targeted the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El
Salvador, or CISPES. As the ACLU reports, "Strong evidence suggests
that CISPES was targeted for investigation because of its ideological
opposition to then-President Reagan's already controversial foreign
policy in Latin America. The FBI persisted in an intensive six-month
investigation of CISPES in which it often reported the group's
activities to the Department of Justice in a prejudicial and biased
manner." Yet most civil libertarians believe that even if the rules
were occasionally broken, they still worked to protect First Amendment
Contrary to the claims made by defenders of Bush administration
policies, the Levi guidelines would not have impeded an investigation
of al-Qaida. As Cunningham points out, cases "with suspected ties to
'foreign powers' were not subject to this criminal standard."
Nevertheless, after Sept. 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued new
rules gutting the Levi guidelines. Thanks to Ashcroft, FBI agents are
now allowed to monitor public meetings even if they don't have any
reason to suspect that there's any criminal activity being committed or
"Now, that means if there is a rally of people who are criticizing the
United States and its policies and saying that the United States will
someday perhaps be destroyed because of that, the FBI agent can go and
listen to what's being said," Ashcroft told CNN's Larry King in May of
2002. In other words, merely arguing that U.S. policies may result in
the country's destruction justifies FBI snooping. This gives the FBI
investigative license far beyond even that it enjoyed during the
COINTELPRO period, let alone under the Levi Guidelines.
There's no way to know how often the FBI is actually monitoring
protesters. The cases that have come to light so far have involved
local police officers, not federal agents, and in most instances it's
unclear whether they've been working in concert with the FBI. For
example, last year in Fresno, the antiwar group Peace Fresno discovered
they'd been infiltrated when an undercover cop who'd been attending
their meetings was killed in a motorcycle accident. When his obituary
was published, members of Peace Fresno realized that the man they knew
as Aaron Stokes was really Aaron Kilner, a member of the Fresno County
Sheriff's Department's anti-terrorism unit.
There is a Joint Terrorism Task Force in Fresno, but members of Peace
Fresno and their lawyers have not yet been able to find out whether
Kilner was spying on them for the FBI, and whether he gave the FBI any
information about their activities.
Not that there's much information to give. "This is a group that passes
petitions and goes to city council meetings," says Nicholas DeGraff, a
Peace Fresno organizer. "When we have a demonstration, we call the
police ahead of time." The group, he says, is made up of "retirees,
grandparents, schoolteachers and community workers. Your model citizens
just participating in democracy."
The group has around 200 people on its membership roster, says DeGraff,
with an active core of about 25 people. In early 2003, Kilner paid a
$12 membership fee and joined them. He told the group that he didn't
work and lived off an inheritance. In the weeks before the war in Iraq,
he came to meetings and participated in the weekly demonstrations Peace
Fresno held at a local intersection.
He said little, DeGraff recalls, and never volunteered to do anything
beyond passing out flyers. Most of the time, says DeGraff, he sat in a
corner and took notes. Even after the war, he kept coming, showing up
at meetings every few weeks. When the group went to Sacramento to
protest at a WTO ministerial meeting in June, he went with them. He
died in August.
Peace Fresno has since been assured by the Fresno Sheriff's Department
that it is not under investigation and has never 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. "It's equating dissent with terrorism," says DeGraff. "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 to police about potential violence at an antiwar 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 in the days leading up to the protest," 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
police or engaging in civil disobedience until 20 minutes after police
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 kind of link that, if you have a
protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought
against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that
protest," he said. "You can almost argue that a protest against that is
a terrorist act."
This egregious statement, in which a law enforcement representative
takes it upon himself to judge the legitimacy of democratic protest,
seems to confirm the worst fears of civil libertarians that Bush's "war
against terror" is actually a war against dissent. Of course, whether
Van Winkle actually believes that antiwar 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 terrorism statistics on the
federal level. Every Arab who has a phony drivers license is now called
a terrorist by the Justice Department, so they can say, 'We've arrested
thousands of terrorists.'
"This is the 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 antiterrorism funding and
In a Nation article from May 2002, Robert Dreyfuss wrote of that
spillover effect. The Justice Department, he reported, had offered
billions of dollars in anti-terror subsidies to local governments, but
first they had to show that there were "potential threat elements" in
"Under the Justice Department program each state was asked to conduct a
county-by-county assessment of potential terrorist threats in order to
qualify for the federal largesse," Dreyfuss wrote. "In each city and
county local police were required to identify up to fifteen groups or
individuals called potential threat elements (PTEs). The Justice
Department helpfully points out that the motivations of the PTEs could
be 'political, religious, racial, environmental [or] special interest.'
At a stroke, the Justice Department prompted 17,000 state and local
police departments to begin monitoring radicals."
Thus even if the FBI isn't working directly with local police to spy on
protesters, the messages coming from the Justice Department influence
the agencies below, says Edgar. "The Ashcroft Justice Department has
set a terrible example," he says. "They're sending the wrong message
around the country to the state and local police. Local and state
police will follow the FBI's example on a lot of things. On top of
that, add big grants for homeland security and you've got a recipe for
a lot more political spying."
This is the first of two parts.
Michelle Goldberg is a staff writer for Salon based in New York.
© Copyright 2003 by YourSITE.com
More information about the FoRK