beware of this Ashcroft-band of nutters and Route 666-travelers, who are...
those of you who are concerned about John Ashcroft and his fellow nutcases...the religiloonie-crowd...
ought to read this lengthy reposting, and those who aren't yet aware, owe it to themselves and their
beloved's to read it to become aware.
repostings 4 u
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. 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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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 anarchists."
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
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
"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 files.
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
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 rights.
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 planned.
"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
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
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 mission."
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.
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