[Hpn] FBI investigating activists of every stripe

William Charles Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Mon, 27 Mar 2006 09:20:23 -0500


FBI investigating activists of every stripe

ACLU accuses agency of being over-zealous


By NICHOLAS RICCARDI
Los Angeles Times


March 27. 2006


The FBI, while waging a highly publicized war against terrorism, has spent
resources gathering information on antiwar and environmental protesters, and
activists who feed vegetarian meals to the homeless, the agency's internal
memos show.

For years, the FBI's definition of terrorism has included violence against
property, such as the window smashing during the 1999 Seattle protests
against the World Trade Organization. Those activities have led the FBI to
investigate the online chat rooms, organizing meetings and demonstrations of
a wide range of activist groups. Officials say that international terrorists
pose the greatest threat to the nation, but they cannot ignore crimes
committed by some activists.
"It's one thing to express an idea or such, but when you commit acts of
violence in support of that activity, that's where our interest comes in,"
said Bill Carter, an FBI spokesman in Washington.

He stressed that the agency targets individuals who commit crimes and does
not single out groups for ideological reasons. He cited the recent arrest of
environmental activists accused of firebombing an unfinished ski resort in
Vail, Colo. "People can get hurt,"Carter said. "Businesses can be ruined."
The FBI's encounters with activists are described in hundreds of pages of
documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom
of Information Act after agents visited several activists before the 2004
political conventions. Details have steadily trickled out over the past
year, but newly released documents provide a fuller view of some FBI
investigations.

"Any definition of terrorism that would include someone throwing a bottle or
rock through a window during an antiwar demonstration is dangerously
overbroad," said Ben Wizner, an attorney with the ACLU. "The FBI will have
its hands full pursuing antiwar groups instead of truly dangerous
organizations."

ACLU attorneys say that most violence during demonstrations is minor and is
better handled by local police than federal counterterrorism agents. They
contend that the FBI, which spied on antiwar and civil-rights leaders during
the 1960s, appears to be investigating activists solely for opposing the
government.

"They don't know where Osama bin Laden is, but they're spending money
watching people like me,"said Kirsten Atkins, 40, an environmental activist.
Her license-plate number showed up in an FBI terrorism file after she
attended a protest against the lumber industry in Colorado Springs, Colo.,
in 2002.

Attorneys for the ACLU acknowledge that the FBI memos are heavily redacted
and contain incomplete portraits of some cases, but they say they are
troubling. The documents show the agency has monitored groups that were not
suspected of any crimes, the attorneys say. "It certainly seems they're
casting a net much more widely than would be necessary to thwart something
like the blowing up of the Oklahoma City federal building," said Mark
Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.

FBI officials respond that there is nothing improper about agents attending
a meeting or demonstration. "We have to be able to go out and look at
things, we have to be able to conduct an investigation," said William
Crowley, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh FBI office.

The ACLU earlier this month released an FBI report in which an agent
described photographing activists in Pittsburgh who were handing out fliers
for an upcoming antiwar demonstration. The report made no mention of any
potential violence or crimes. Crowley said that, in that case, the agency
was looking for one individual. The office closed the file when it realized
the suspect was not among the those handing out the leaflets, he said.

The murky connection the federal government makes between some left-wing
activist groups and terrorism was shown by a Department of Justice
presentation delivered earlier this month before a law class at the
University of Texas in Austin. An FBI counterterrorism official showed 35
slides listing militia, neo-Nazi and Islamicist groups. Senior Spec. Agent
Charles Rasner said that one slide, titled "Anarchism," listed groups an
analyst believed people intent on terrorism might associate with. It
included Food Not Bombs, which mainly serves vegetarian food to homeless
people, and, with a question mark next to it, Indymedia, a Web site
featuring articles written by radical journalists and activists.

Both groups are among numerous organizations affiliated with anarchists and
anti-globalization protests. Elizabeth Wagoner, 23, said she was one of the
few students who objected to the groups' inclusion on the list. "My friends
do Indymedia," she said. "My friends aren't terrorists."
Rasner said he'd never heard of the two groups before and didn't mean to
condemn them. But he added that it made sense to worry about violent people
emerging from anarchist networks. "Any group can have somebody that goes
south."

Denver, where the ACLU fought a lengthy court battle with local police over
its spying on political groups, has the most extensive records of encounters
between the FBI and activists. Documents obtained by the ACLU there revealed
how agents monitored the lumber industry demonstration, an antiwar march and
an anarchist group that activists say was never formed.

"There's a lot of responsibility on the FBI," said Joe Airey, head of the
FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in Denver. "We have a real obligation to
make sure there are no additional terrorist acts on this soil."

(Denver-area activists said that, since the surveillance documents became
public, there has been a subtle chill, with some people avoiding protests
for fear of ending up in an FBI file. Some activists believe the FBI has
been aggressively watching their groups to intimidate them.

"We've kind of gathered up our skirts and pulled in," said Sarah Bardwell,
who works for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group. Along
with some activist roommates, she has volunteered for Food Not Bombs.

"In our house, we don't talk about politics anymore," Bardwell said.
"There's been a toning down of everything we do." That change came after six
FBI agents and Denver police officers visited her house in July 2004.

------ End of article
By NICHOLAS RICCARDI

http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2006603270351



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