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|ACLU ACQUIRES GOV'T DOCUMENTS SHOWING SURVEILLANCE OF PEACEFUL, LAW-ABIDING GROUPS
FBI ALLEGEDLY INFILTRATING, MONITORING NON-VIOLENT HUMAN RIGHTS, ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS, LABELING THEM 'POTENTIAL TERRORIST THREATS'
9 May 2006
New information acquired by the ACLU by way of the Freedom of Information Act, shows the FBI and the Joint Terrorist Task Force have been monitoring, infiltrating and spying on innocent, law-abiding individuals and both non-religious and faith-based activist groups whose activities are entirely peaceful and are protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
According to the ACLU's report, its "clients include advocates for the environment, animal rights, labor, religion, Native American rights, fair trade, grassroots politics, peace, social justice, nuclear disarmament, human rights and civil liberties". The findings indicate the government's surveillance of political groups and possible dissidents extends far beyond what was previously known about the NSA-run extrajudicial wiretaps.
One group clearly targetted and labeled by the FBI as a "possible terrorist threat" is the School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), a faith-based protest group which organizes annual demonstrations at Fort Benning, Georgia, site of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly School of the Americas), which is known to have trained top generals and security forces working for dictatorial regimes in Latin America.
The ACLU press release cites Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, saying "We gather yearly to remember those killed by graduates of this school, and to call for a change in U.S. policy towards Latin America," adding: "Our intentions are peaceful and our commitment unwavering as we nonviolently call attention to a school that has trained some of the worst human rights abusers in this hemisphere."
There is in the new documents a clear indication that political activity, especially where groups are critical of government policy, is cause enough to trigger surveillance by a number of federal agencies. The federal government denies this and says it does not spy on individuals or groups where there is not cause to suspect a threat, though this term appears to be vaguely and subjectively applied, and in this case to represent a threat to the government's will to maintain secrets, not against the security of the nation.
Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the national ACLU, is quoted saying "From Quakers to monks to priests, the FBI is targeting innocent Americans for counterterrorism surveillance... The quintessential American values of freedom and fairness are predicated on people being able to stand up and speak out when they feel they have seen an injustice."
The Progressive magazine quotes Bill Carter, an FBI spokesperson, as saying "The FBI investigates only when we have information that an individual or a group may be involved either in violent activity or national security issues." Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has already used the newly released documents in a hearing during which he "aggressively" questioned FBI director Robert Mueller about the agency's spying on innocent Americans.
According to the ACLU, "Many other faith-based and peace groups affiliated with SOA Watch have also been targets of FBI spying", including, "organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee, the Thomas Merton Center, Veterans for Peace and the Catholic Workers Group." The legality of this secret surveillance, a departure from traditional modes of constitutional law enforcement, has yet to be determined. [s]
AT&T was once the nation's telecommunications monopoly, and abuses there led to the break-up of the Bell monopoly and the regulation of telecoms, with the intent of encouraging competition and achieving the goal of forcing providers to serve the customers first. Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a lawsuit alleging that the telecommunications giant has violated federal law by assisting the government in spying on innocent Americans without any court authorization. [Full Story]
DATA SHADOWS & IMPROBABLE CONSENT
Neither contracts nor "terms and conditions" including indemnities disclaimers, can be classified as legislation. They do not make or construct legal limits by themselves. Obvious as this may seem, it is a necessary introduction to the problem of the trade in personal information and "soft surveillance", whereby one is routinely subjected to interrogation, inspection and even physical search, not for having broken any laws or even aroused any reasonable suspicion, but simply because "that's policy". [Full Story]