In the first of 20 some rallies being conducted outside FBI offices in cities around the country, a few hundred peace and civil liberties activists gathered yesterday in Minneapolis. Some of last week's victims of FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas spoke out:
The Minnesotans who had gathered voiced their strong disagreement with the notion that advocacy for peace and social justice is now apparently being considered the FBI's crime priority.
It turned out the Minneapolis FBI office had presumably closed down and had sent most of its employees home early yesterday afternoon well before the demonstration commenced outside their office even though there was absolutely no danger to any FBI employee from the peaceful (and mostly gray-haired, grandparental-looking) group (that included retired FBI legal counsel like myself!). When I called inside to their office as I wanted to make a complaint and give them some additional info regarding an unrelated matter (involving some of their agents accused in a newly-disclosed FBI Test Cheating Scandal*), the person who answered the FBI phone said they would send a duty agent down but I waited 20 minutes and no one came to the door. When I called a second time, the FBI employee who answered said they were not conducting any more interviews or other business and I would have to make my complaint the following day. The question naturally arises: what would have happened yesterday afternoon if a bank robber was outside and wanted to give himself up and the FBI refused to come down to arrest him because they were afraid of the Twin Cities peace community?!
This insane Orwellian dynamic -- the pretext that has allowed the FBI to turn its resources from real criminals and real crime to harass the peace and social justice community -- was best summarized by one guy's small but colorful sign: "Please FBI, stop clowning around. Find Bin Laden instead."
On a more serious note, Bruce Nestor of the National Lawyers Guild did a great job explaining the legal problem of the 1996 "Material Support to Terrorism" law, the Patriot Act enhancement which encompasses mere speech that used to be protected under the First Amendment and the wrongly-decided "Humanitarian Law Project vs Holder" decision handed down by six of the nine Supreme Court judges three months ago, in June of this year.
The raids on anti-war activists against this backdrop indicate to me that the FBI is merely seizing the moment in opportunistic fashion and abusing its discretion under the overbroad series of "war on terror" laws. If it's of any consolation to anyone (and I doubt I'm going to have any luck getting this point across to the victims who had their door broken down by SWAT teams at 7 am), the raids were probably not actually deliberate. As the FBI's own inspector general explained in earlier criticism of the FBI's improper targeting these last few years of anti-war movements and the FBI's false justifications for doing so, the FBI sometimes simply needs to "make work" on a "slow day". After all, there are now 854,000 "intelligence" operatives, agents, analysts and private contractors who have been given top secret jobs in "Top Secret America" to fight the various top secret "wars"! (I have no idea if the "war on drugs" or plain old "war on crime" that I used to be a part of are still ongoing or whether they've all been rolled into the new "war on terror". We don't hear too much about those stale old wars anymore but I guess they've never ended either.)
I also tried to tell people who had gathered that the FBI is probably doing much better than most of the other 3000 some public security agencies and private "intelligence" contractors who now comprise the burgeoning Surveillance Security Industrial Complex. After all the FBI was the only intelligence agency who refused to participate in waterboarding. You can't imagine how many people rolled their eyes when I told them that actually the FBI actions are probably seen as Sunday School in comparison to the icky stuff that Blackwater type entities are doing inside the U.S. and/or to US citizens.
* In what has to be the epitome of ironies, the FBI's Inspector General (IG) released a new critical report just hours before yesterday's rallies in front of FBI offices around the country. Get this. The IG found that FBI agents and their supervisors were engaged in significant cheating on an internal test. Agents were either improperly sharing the correct answers or finding a way to fraudulently post the correct answers on their computers to the exam. Here's the final kicker. Guess what the subject matter of the test was: issues concerning the justification needed for launching investigations and surveillances of domestic activist groups! (See "FBI employees Reportedly cheated on security test")
What to do
The Department of Justice Inspector General devotes this page to informing people how to make complaints about fraud, waste and abuse. You can't phone in your complaint but the recorded voice message says you can also report civil liberties violations relating to the PATRIOT Act. You might recall that when former Attorney General Ashcroft wanted to re-institute provisions of the Patriot Act, he used the rationale that no one had thus far made any complaints about the Patriot Act infringing on their civil liberties. Of course that was not long after the post 9-11 system had taken affect. It's taken a few years for these scandals to surface and for people to become aware of the various consequences of the Patriot Act and other post 9-11 changes. Besides speaking out and writing publicly, complaints can also be directed to FBI Director Mueller, to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility and to Attorney General Eric Holder. Most importantly, if we are to avoid repeating the history of the '60s-'70s and the indiscriminate spying upon first amendment-protected groups that took place during those years, people should call their own elected congresspersons and senators and ask them to quickly convene new Church Committee-type hearings.
(This post first appeared on War Is A Crime)