FBI Harassment Is Not ‘Tinfoil’

Remember this, the next time you are tempted to dismiss accusations of political harassment as somehow implausible.

Protesters Subjected To 'Pretext Interviews': New FBI documents to be released today show that anti-terrorism agents who questioned antiwar protesters last summer in Denver were conducting “pretext interviews” that did not lead to any information about criminal activity.

The memos were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of ongoing litigation and provide a glimpse of the FBI's controversial efforts to interview dozens of members of leftist protest groups before the party conventions last year in Boston and New York.

Instead, one heavily censored memo from the FBI's Denver field office, dated Aug. 2, 2004, characterized the effort as “pretext interviews to gain general information concerning possible criminal activity at the upcoming political conventions and presidential election.”

This is how freedom gets eroded, drip by drip.

If this story is true, then it seems that the federal police apparatus is now at least as corrupt (morally, not in the bribery sense) as it was in Nixon's day. Given everything else we are hearing, maybe even more so.

Democracy was in danger then, and it's in danger now.

Earlier “boiling frog” post.

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5 Responses to FBI Harassment Is Not ‘Tinfoil’

  1. Oberon says:

    What’s the big deal here? The FBI was concerned about violent protests, which seems reasonable. They did some investigation and interviewed some people. From the article it seems that FBI was pretty upfront about what they were doing.

    I’m pretty much a liberal/libertarian type, but I don’t find this troubling. The FBI wanted to interview some people from Food Not Bombs. The people refused. Okay, then. From the article, the FNB chick sounds like a real whiner.

  2. paperwight says:

    The WHOOOOOSH you hear was the cluetrain hammering past Oberon. The big deal is that federal law enforcement is using its considerable influence to not-too-subtly threaten people for the kind of speech that law enforcement *thinks* those people *might* make, before they make it. That’s what we have that whole First Amendment thingumajig for.

  3. flipper says:

    Oberon should read the argument put forth in the article.

    “These documents confirm that the FBI’s anti-terrorism force has been collecting information about peaceful protesters and dissenters and targeting people for attention on the basis of constitutionally protected association and advocacy,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU’s Colorado chapter. “It lends credence to what a lot of critics have said: that the FBI is starting to regard some forms of dissent as potential terrorism.”

    That’s the big deal.

    Anyone who actually knows a FNB member would find the notion that a member poses a “specific and credible threat” of blowing something up laughable.

  4. Oberon says:

    I know one FNB member, and the only threat she poses is annoying people with her acoustic guitar.

    How exactly is the FBI supposed to interview any political activist without being accused of threatening them for speech they might make? It’s the FBI’s frickin’ job to find out if people pose a threat. Most of the anti-Bush/anti-war protestors are perfectly nice people, but let’s admit there are a few anarchists and other wackos in there. And when legitimate anti-war protestors ally themselves with anti-American tinfoil groups like ANSWER, that’s bound to raise questions.

    By all accounts, the police went way overboard during the Republican convention, for example. But that’s has nothing to do with the FBI asking questions.

  5. michael says:

    No one is saying that the FBI shouldn’t investigate threats. The question is, how does the FBI allocate its resources. We don’t say that the FBI should go and randomly interview people, on the grounds that it might turn up a threat, even though finding out where threats might be is part of the FBI’s job. (And if there is going to be random interviewing it @#$@$# better be really random…)

    We expect the FBI to prioritize. But if the metric that the FBI uses to prioritize is to target people engaged in protected political speech, then that’s chilling — and a serious First Amendment violation.

    So, the (only) way that the FBI interviews activists without being accused of mis-behavior is by only doing so when the reason for the interview has nothing whatsoever to do with their exercise of their legal rights. It’s that simple.

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