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      FBI Expands Terrorism Definition To Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

      Anyone interested in domestic spying on peace and justice activists should study carefully the September 2010 report of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, blandly titled "A Review of the FBI's Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups."

      The 200-page report, while generally sedating in tone, includes important analyses of spying in 2002 on the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburg, the 2003 Miami protests against the Free Trade Zone of the Americas [FTAA], Catholic Worker protests at recruitment offices and military bases, Greenpeace civil disobedience, and animal rights protest activities.
      The report poses a dramatic question of "whether the FBI has expanded the definition of domestic terrorism to people who engage in mainstream political activity, including nonviolent protest and civil disobedience."[1]
      The technical classification involves any investigation of a criminal act by an individual “who seeks to further political and/or social goals wholly or in part through activities that involve the use of force or violence and violate federal law.”
      Any conspiracy to throw rocks, spray paint an armed forces recruitment center, or trespass on a US military base, could classify as a domestic terrorist offence.
      Anyone classified as a “domestic terrorist” is placed on a Terrorist Watch List, for example, in the Violent Gang and Terrorist Offender File [VGTOF], a database used by local police in the course of traffic stops.
      The report also notes critically the expanding definitions that automatically trigger pre-emptive action by the FBI against local protests. The FBI’s Manual of Investigative Operations & Guidelines [MIOG, part 1, 300-1[2] defines such a “special event” as one “which, by virtue of its profile and/or status, represents an attractive target for terrorist attack.” Under this rationale, the FBI can open files on individuals “associated with groups known to have previously protested at similar events.”[2]
      The FBI mentality seems to have changed little since the Manichean days of Cold War anti-communism. For example, one FBI email, entitled “To report results of Pittsburg anti-war activity,” which was illegal on the face of it, went on to describe the Thomas Merton Center as “a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacificism [sic].” For the FBI Pittsburg office, this was suspicious stuff.
      The Inspector General report downplays the scope of domestic spying in general, in part because the expanded definitions make investigations more permissible. Even so, the actual spying activity in the case of the Merton Center is belittled as a one-time case of “poor judgment” involving photographs and reports filed on a single individual.
      This is not the report of a real watchdog with teeth, but more like a cautionary commentary by an advisory agency. For example, the IG recommends that the FBI simply “clarify” when First Amendment offenses become “acts of terrorism”, noting that trespassing and vandalism cases have not been defined traditionally as “terrorism.” The IG does not condemn the definitional creep.
      But if the FBI’s transgressions are minor ones, the report’s overall conclusion is extremely serious: the FBI, including Director Robert Mueller, repeatedly made “false and misleading statements to Congress and the public.”[3] If the FBI engaged in covering up the small stuff, how can they ever be candid regarding major cover operations against domestic anti-war groups?

      [1] A Review of the FBI's Invesigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups. Oversight and Review Division: Office of the Inspector General, September 2010, p. 23.

      [2] Ibid., p. 150.

      [3] Ibid., p. 66.

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      Reader Comments (2)

      Will I find out if I'm on the list when I go to vote?
      Will I just be turned away, or handcuffed and spirited away?

      October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHolly Bloobus

      "Because in this world,
      the greater the restrictions and prohibitions,
      the more people are impoverished;
      the more advanced the weapons of the state,
      the darker the nation;
      the more artful and crafty the plan,
      the stranger the outcome;
      the more laws are posted,
      the more thieves appear." Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)

      October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLao Tzu

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