Author's Home invaded, Work seized by FBI
I'm not sure if I believe this story, but I certainly believe it *could* happen - heck, Monica Lewinsky went through something similar, and that was before the Patriot Act. Surely a week before the Presidential election, it's surely an indication of what we *might* be facing in the next four years.
"Dilyn" is a published author who writes romance novels about "mainstream women's fiction adventure." During her research on land mines in Cambodia, she tells "Jungle Beat" columnist Stephanie Bond, (reprinted at http://holtuncensored.c.topica.com/maacN2Uabbfglb33SP8b/ ), she used the Internet to surf the Web, buy titles online, and search for books from a computer in the library. She also borrowed books from the library, sometimes checking them out for months at a time.
The big surprise to Dilyn in this research, she says, was the discovery that "one of the Al Qaeda-linked groups" had become involved in "the atrocities that still go on there [Cambodia] even today."
Dilyn says that the library she used was "huge and highly impersonal" and that she did not share her reasons for checking out the books with librarians there. Soon, however, she "thought I was being stalked" and noticed that "mail was missing from my box. I caught someone searching my trash, I saw a prowler in my yard and actually called the police." Neighbors also spotted and reported suspicious activity, she says.
Then, suddenly, "six male agents" from several agencies ("Postal Inspectors, the FBI, and three officers who would only identify themselves as Federal Police") launched an all-out, pre-dawn, three-hour raid at her home.
"They banged at my front door first, damaged it coming in, displayed weapons and threatened to kill my dogs," Dilyn recalls. Yelling at her all the while, they confiscated Dilyn's "computers, photocopier, files, books, discs, computer programs, CDs of the music by which I write, contracts...pictures off my walls, my office television, pens, a case of paper, postage stamps."
The agents had a search warrant of sorts that Dilyn says "was specific to items pertaining to my writing and research. Plus the agents were absolutely looking for certain books by title ... So I know without a doubt that those aspects of our [writers'] research habits are being monitored."
Her activity on the Internet, she believes, had been recorded and "had a large part in this, too."
After months passed, the agents finally returned her computers ("bugged") and discs ("all ruined") but kept everything else. Dilyn hired "a criminal defense attorney who specializes in federal warrants and issues of search and seizure," and says that for several months, "I was a basket case." She reacted fearfully at every knock at her door, jumped when the dogs barked, worried obsessively.
But finally "I realized that I did nothing wrong. I don't want to make this a debate over The Patriot Act, but its broad scope violated my rights. I have the right to do research as I see fit as long as it's legal and to buy or check out the books I want."
Dilyn believes she's still being watched and monitored and figures, What the heck. "Let them monitor me," she says. "Quite simply, I'm not changing." Bravo, whoever you are, Dilyn, even if you don't exist.
The reason I think this is important is that it's so FAMILIAR. It's HISTORIC. Remember that drug bust back in 2000 - again, *before* the Patriot Act - when DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) operatives demanded that the Tattered Cover in Denver provide records of book purchases? (See #147).
As the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation for free expression at http://holtuncensored.c.topica.com/maacN2Uabbfgmb33SP8b/ , put it: "What really would [government agents] gain even if they were able to categorically pin the purchase of two books ... on their prime suspect?
"Perhaps [the customer] bought them for someone else. Perhaps he bought them by mistake. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps."
The same question was asked of government agents who that same year broke into the apartment of gay investigative reporter Bruce Mirken and confiscated his computer and records about a story he was researching on runaway gay teens (see the same column at http://holtuncensored.c.topica.com/maacN2Uabbfgnb33SP8b/ ).
And if this was Every Writer's Nightmare *before* the Patriot Act, consider how many government break-ins and confiscated computers and yelling and threatening is going on NOW, when librarians, booksellers and writers like "Dilyn" fall under a legal gag order to say nothing about it.
Can we as writers do anything to protect ourselves? Dilyn has the following ideas for ways that anyone doing any kind of research can "fly low on the [government's] radar":
1. "Don't buy your books online," she says. Buy them from bookstores and - she doesn't say this specifically, but it's another lesson from the Monica Lewinsky fiasco - always pay cash.
2. Consider what kind of trail you're leaving when you do Internet research. Not only are "suspect" websites being monitored, Dilyn believes there are "definitely Web sites set up for the sole purpose of entrapment." (Those rats.)
3. To stay anonymous while surfing the Internet, "use a public library computer, or try a university library." Dilyn does not mention this, but watch out if you must use your library card to register electronically for a time slot on the next available computer. Seek out savvy libraries that use handwritten sign-up sheets only and shred the list every hour or so.
4. Remember, Dilyn advises, that "your library check-out habits are monitored. Not every title, mind you, but the FBI, and now Homeland Security, does watch some 'flagged' books. Perhaps instead of checking out a book you think could be a flagged book, read it at the library. Make notes or photocopies of the information you need to keep."
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