[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. ;-)



  From AxisofLogic.com

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 
the group.

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 
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 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 
their area.

"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.


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