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Statement from Voters For Peace
Two days ago the FBI raided six homes of eight peace activists in Minneapolis and Chicago as well as a Minneapolis office of an antiwar group. Agents kicked down doors of homes with guns drawn, smashed furniture, and seized computers, documents, phones, and other materials without making any arrests. These groups do not use guns and bombs. They are not terrorists. Their "weapons" are leaflets, newsletters, and nonviolent demonstrations.
The FBI searches highlight a dangerous trend that has been building for nearly a decade: domestic surveillance of peace activists. We are writing you to put these raids in context and to urge you to take action.
The raids took place just a few days after a report of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice examined 8,000 pages of documents from 2001 to 2006. The report blasted the Federal Bureau of Investigation for spying on anti-war activists, animal-rights groups, and environmentalists, calling the improper "terror" investigations "unreasonable and inconsistent with FBI policy." Among those targeted were the anti-war Thomas Merton Center, the Quakers, the Catholic Worker, Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and an individual Quaker peace activist. According to the Inspector General, there was "little or no basis" for the investigations.
Another report found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used lies and trickery to illegally obtain thousands of records, then issued after-the-fact approvals in an attempt to cover it up. Released in January, this report was the result of another Justice Department investigation which built on a 2007 report covering similar matters. The Inspector General focused on the FBI's unlawful misuse of the already-unconstitutional informal requests known as "exigent letters" to demand information which they knew was illegal. The DOJ report described a "complete breakdown" of procedures within the FBI. According to the report, the "FBI broke law for years in phone record searches." Agents repeatedly and knowingly violated the law by invoking nonexistent "terror emergencies" to get access to information they were not authorized to have.
Nor do these reports cover all the incidences of domestic surveillance of peace advocates. Former FBI special agent and whistleblower, Colleen Rowley, reports that "in 2008, we found out through a Freedom of Information request that there are 300 pages of–I think it was four or five, six agents trailing a group of students in Iowa City to parks, libraries, bars, restaurants. They even went through their trash."
Just today, another Inspector General report found that hundreds of FBI employees cheated on exams related to domestic surveillance. The report described how they consulted with others while taking the exam even though that was forbidden. Others used or distributed answer sheets or study guides that provided test answers. Still others exploited a computer flaw that revealed answers. The agents were being tested on 2008 guidelines that FBI employees must follow when conducting domestic investigations.
There has been a constant battle between the constitution and domestic surveillance of political activists, especially peace advocates, for decades. The FBI has a long history of abusing its authority. If we do not act to curtail these actions we are all in danger of being spied on and added to terrorist watch lists for doing nothing more than attending a rally, signing a petition or holding a sign.
Steps are urgently needed to protect the basic constitutional rights of peace activists and others. These include:
• President Obama needs to speak out against the surveillance of Americans who are merely exercising their constitutional rights. As a former law professor he knows the long history of such abuse and how important it is to contain enforcement.
• Removal of FBI director Robert Mueller. His tenure since 2001 has been littered with abuses of domestic spying. The Inspector General has concluded Director Mueller provided "inaccurate and misleading information" to Congress. Mueller also failed to put in place adequate procedures to ensure the law is obeyed and to ensure agents are aware of the laws regarding domestic surveillance.
• Congress needs to hold hearings to investigate the extent of domestic spying on Americans who are merely exercising the rights to free speech, to assembly, and to petition the government. These fundamental political rights need to be protected by tightening up the laws regarding domestic surveillance which were loosened by the PATRIOT Act.
Take action today!
The escalation of wars abroad by the Obama administration is moving forward alongside an escalation against antiwar activists at home. The groups targeted in these raids, while Marxist in ideology, endorsed and supported the election of President Obama. Their Political Report noted, "Obama's election represents a rejection of the Bush administration policies and a desire amongst the people for a progressive agenda from the government." Now we know that the Obama administration is moving forward with Bush-era policies that target anti-war political dissent at the same time that more Americans oppose Obama's wars.Please act today to stop this from continuing.
Kevin B. Zeese