portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts united states

government | human & civil rights | police / legal

A thousand J. Edgar Hoovers...is that what we got with PDX JTTF?

Let's be honest, shall we? Given this old hoofer of a tap-dancer
we've got in Vera Katz and her 4 very weak colleagues, and their
poor showing when they last debated the PDX JTTF, we KNOW it's all
a can of worms, and these people can't be trusted...and so, given
that, it will be to your decided advantage to read this one.....
repostings 4 u

-Caveat Lector-

A thousand J. Edgar Hoovers

State and local police are taking it upon themselves to
investigate antiwar activists -- and in the computer
age, the threat to our civil liberties is even greater
than it was in Hoover's day.

- - - - - - - - - - - - By Michelle Goldberg
The second part in the Lost Liberties series at
Salon.com (The first part was Outlawing Dissent)

Feb. 12, 2004 | Political spying has many costs. One is
that it poisons communities, putting dissidents in the
same social position as criminals, co-conspirators or
untrustworthy elements. Jennifer Albright, a 30-year-
old lawyer in Albuquerque, N.M., believes such spying
cost her her job with the Bernalillo County district
attorney's office.

On Tuesday, March 25, two days after marching in a
permitted demonstration against the war, Albright, then
an assistant district attorney, was called into her
boss's office and put on leave. The reason? Local
police said she had identified undercover agents in the
crowd at the protest, which she denies. Three days
later, Albright was fired.

At the time, Deputy Chief of Police Ruben Davalos told
the Associated Press, "One of the officers said that
(Albright) actually walked straight up to the officer
and stood face-to-face and stared at him for a period
of time." He also said she was "seen pointing directly
at the officers and getting others to see who they were
in the crowd."

Albright denies this. "I didn't identify anybody," she
says. "I don't recall seeing anyone that I knew was an
officer, let alone an undercover officer."

Yet clearly there were undercover officers there,
confirming a belief long held in Albuquerque's activist
community. "Law enforcement has always appeared at any
kind of peace group," says Albright. "At any antiwar
group, it's just assumed that there's at least one
undercover officer." Antiwar meetings, she says, are
typically opened with someone saying, "We welcome all
the law enforcement that is here. If you have any
questions you can ask us now, and if you'd like to talk
to us discreetly, we understand."

According to Maria Santelli, an employee at the
Albuquerque Peace and Justice Center, where many
antiwar demonstrations are organized, people are
advised not to say anything at the center that they
don't want police to hear. "If you want to say
something covert, if direct action is planned without
cooperation from police, we advise people not to speak
in here," she says.

Jeff Arbogast, public information officer for the
Albuquerque Police Department, which is part of a Joint
Terrorism Task Force, refuses to say whether the
department sends undercover cops to antiwar meetings.
He defends the department's decision to use undercover
agents at antiwar protests, saying, "We received
intelligence information regarding the potential for
people that could be present for other than peaceful
purposes." Arbogast won't say where the intelligence
came from.

Today, Albright works for a small criminal defense firm
and plans to move into civil rights law. She's
contemplating a lawsuit against the D.A.'s office, but
says, "In all honesty it hasn't hurt my career. If
anything it's bettered my career." Still, she calls
what happened to her a "witch hunt."

She believes the police are motivated at least in part
by personal hostility. "My point of view, which I tried
to discuss with my boss before I was fired, is that I'm
being retaliated against by the police department," she
says. "Many law enforcement officers have prior
military service. In talking to some of the officers,
they seemed to take a real personal affront to anyone
thinking the war is wrong. They said, 'That's a
personal attack on us.' Somehow they equate themselves
with the military."

The Albuquerque police haven't returned calls for

Albright's story sounds unique, but across the country,
in Grand Rapids, Mich., Abby Puls also had her job
threatened by undercover cops who accused her of
exposing them.

Puls, a 24-year-old Spanish translator who works on
contract in the city court, was part of the People's
Alliance, a group of antiwar activists who planned to
demonstrate at the Federal Building the day the war
started. They had also agreed to meet that night at
Grand Rapids' Community Media Center to plan further
actions, including acts of civil disobedience.

On March 20, as bombs fell on Baghdad, Puls went to the
protest as planned and saw two people she knew. At the
courthouse, Puls had gotten to know a few of the
undercover cops who work on drug cases -- she even
considered them friends. "Really funny, wild guys," she
says, but not guys she expected to see protesting the
war in Iraq.

So when she saw them at the Federal Building, she asked
them what they were doing there. They told her, "Just
hanging out, don't tell anyone." She says she didn't,
but that other protesters figured out what they were up
to. "They are so obviously not part of our group and
can't answer questions without sounding like cops,"
Puls writes in an e-mail from Argentina, where she was
traveling with a friend. "One of my friends came with a
woman (cop) who started arguing with me in favor of the
war at an antiwar protest -- smart." Later, another one
of the officers posed for a picture holding a sign. The
picture was posted on the Web, where Puls says someone
else I.D.'d him.

That evening, about 40 people gathered at the Community
Media Center to plan further actions. Puls couldn't
make it, but even without her there to identify anyone,
antiwar organizer Jeff Smith says one attendee, a
quiet, clean-cut, well-built man in his 30s, made him

"There were a few people in the room we didn't really
know, so we passed around a sheet of paper to get
people's names and phone numbers," says Smith, who runs
the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy, a
group that teaches media literacy and is housed in the
Community Media Center. During a break in the meeting,
Smith called the number the man had given, and found
that it didn't work.

When the meeting resumed, the man was gone. Almost
immediately, though, two police cars pulled up, saying
that someone had reported "inappropriate behavior."
They demanded the name of the owner of the building --
a building the Community Media Center has occupied for
three years -- and wanted to know what it was used for.

The next day, there was another rally at the Federal
Building, and Puls was there. As she was leaving, a man
sitting in the passenger seat of a tan Ford Taurus
called her over. There was another man in the driver's
seat and a woman in the back. The passenger asked if
she was the interpreter who works at the court. "Yes,
my name's Abby," she said, and took the first man's
outstretched hand. He shook her hand but didn't let go.

"Abby what?" he said.

"I repeat, 'Abby,' and he repeats the question this
time with a firmer grip," Puls says. "It's starting to
hurt so I tell him my last name."

After she told them her name, the man in the driver's
seat accused her of identifying an undercover cop at
the meeting the night before. He threatened her with
arrest for hindering and opposing an officer. Then he
told her, "I don't know how you are employed at the
court, contract or employee, but if these judges find
out you're choosing sides against the police, they may
not want you in the courthouse translating. I'm not
threatening you, I just want to warn you that if you
I.D. us you'll be arrested. You happen to have an
advantage working at the courthouse."

Puls took the threat seriously. She says she lost work
when, after she was quoted in the paper at an antiwar
demonstration, a conservative judge in the court that
serves the cities of Grandville and Walker mentioned to
her boss that he'd seen her name in the paper, and then
suggested that she not come to his courtroom for a
while, until things "cooled down."

"My boss told me this and, it being his contract, I
agreed," she says, adding that she only lost about
three hours of work. She talked to a lawyer
acquaintance, she says, but the lawyer told her that
while the court couldn't deny her work for her
political views, "being contracted makes it easier for
them to not hire us back under other pretenses."

The next Sunday, there was another meeting at the
Community Media Center. Puls was late, but about a
dozen others had arrived when a man and a woman showed
up whom many of the activists suspected of being
undercover cops. "Someone told them, 'I'm sorry, you
can't come into this meeting,'" says activist Erica
Freshour. "We've never seen them before, and our town
is small enough that we know the regulars. We can also
kind of tell the people who have never been to a
demonstration before but are really into it."

The man threatened to call the police, says Freshour.
"We kind of laughed, thinking, 'You are the police!'"

Just then, Puls arrived. She reached the top of the
stairs when she saw the couple trying to get into the
meeting. It was the driver of the Ford Taurus and the
woman who'd been sitting in the back. Before they saw
her, "someone pushes me into the hallway and says there
is a vice cop and we are moving locations," Puls says.
They had the meeting at a private home.

After that, Smith says, throughout the spring and
summer police cars would frequently park outside the
Community Media Center. He has since met with the
community relations officer for the Grand Rapids Police
Department to try to find out why his group was being
watched, but says the officer hasn't been cooperative.
Working with the ACLU, his group has filed a Freedom of
Information Act request for any documents related to
surveillance of the People's Alliance or the Community
Media Center, but they haven't received anything yet.

Sgt. William Corner of the Grand Rapids Police
Department's Internal Affairs Division acknowledges
that the force uses undercover cops at political
demonstrations to "keep an eye on whether anyone broke
any laws." Asked whether undercover officers were sent
to attend meetings at the Community Media Center, he
said, "As far as I know, there were not, but if there
were I wouldn't tell you that there were," because it's
against department policy to reveal the activities of
undercover police to the general public. Police were
clearly paying attention to the Community Media Center,
though -- Corner said the department was "made aware
of" the meetings and had gathered information about
them on the Internet.

The Grand Rapids Police Department is not part of a
Joint Terrorism Task Force, and it's likely that the
department undertook surveillance of antiwar activists
on its own. Such local, community-based political
spying is nothing new. In the '60s and '70s, says the
ACLU's legislative counsel, Timothy Edgar, local police
established counterintelligence squads that mimicked
COINTELPRO -- and they were actually responsible for
the harassment of activists.

"Most people who have any memory of the civil rights
era and may have attended a demonstration and been
observed by the government, the people who were
tracking what they were doing, nine times out of 10
that would have been a state or local intelligence
squad, not the FBI," says Edgar. "It's really many J.
Edgar Hoovers that pose the greatest threat to civil

One big difference between then and now, though, is
that without computers, the information collected by a
thousand local J. Edgar Hoovers couldn't be quickly
disseminated throughout the nation and the world.

"In the 1950s and '60s, police departments all over the
country had 'red squads,'" says Chris Pyle, a politics
professor at Mount Holyoke College and one of the
country's foremost experts on domestic surveillance.
"Although their work was never as well documented as
that of the FBI and the military, it was far more
extensive. There was considerable swapping, and it
tended to go from the locals to the nationals."

Pyle saw it firsthand at the national level. A former
captain of Army intelligence, Pyle exposed the
military's domestic spying operations and went on to
work for Sen. Frank Church during the congressional
investigation of COINTELPRO. Today's domestic spying,
he says, isn't nearly as extensive as it was at the
height of the movement against the Vietnam War, largely
because there aren't as many protests. Yet the
surveillance we're seeing now, he says, is likely to
increase if the antiwar and anti-Bush movements grow,
and it may imperil civil liberties more than J. Edgar
Hoover ever could.

"What we're seeing is something much larger in scale
and danger than anything that occurred in the 1950s and
1960s," he says. "That's because of computers. Now,
instead of having these agencies working in semi-
isolation or occasional cooperation, there's the
equivalent of the great Alaska pipeline running between
them, and the information flows in both directions. In
addition, in the 1950s or '60s, it took weeks of
pavement pounding and doorknobbing for the FBI or
police or military to collect personal information
about people, the kind of information you need to put
them under surveillance. Today that kind of information
can be obtained by a few computer keystrokes. The
harassment potential is much greater."

Meanwhile, information that's put into the system tends
to spread. "Today, you have at least a dozen American
agencies contributing information to each other's
computer, and scores of foreign intelligence agencies
contributing information," says Pyle.

Once a file is started on someone, it's difficult to
erase, Pyle says.

That's bad news for protesters interrogated by the New
York City Police Department about their political
activities last year. As the ACLU reports, between
February and April of 2003, the "NYPD had forced
hundreds of protesters charged with minor offenses to
surrender information about their political
affiliations and prior protest activity. That
information was being collected on a recently disclosed
form titled 'Criminal Intelligence Division /
Demonstration Debriefing Form.'"

In response to an ACLU complaint, the police department
stopped the interrogations and promised to destroy the
records relating to them.

But Pyle says that once created, such files have a way
of proliferating -- and smearing the reputations of
those on them, in a kind of Orwellian version of the
game "telephone." "After Sept. 11, the FBI sent out a
list of 'persons of interest' to a few corporations,
casinos and airlines in a desperate attempt to increase
security," he says. "These security departments then
copied the lists, integrated them with their own lists
and sent it to their friends. Within a month, there
were 50 of these lists on the Internet. They'd been
reproduced and reissued, by intelligence agencies,
police departments or corporations from as far away as
Brazil and Italy. But now most of the lists said these
are terrorists or terrorist suspects, not persons of

"I have never been more worried," Pyle says. "I was not
nearly as worried when I was on Richard Nixon's enemies
list, or when COINTELPRO was exposed."

Back then, he says, "I figured we could stop this kind
of stuff."

- - - - - - - - - - - - About the writer
Michelle Goldberg is a staff writer for Salon based in
New York.