FBI Asked to Stop Targeting Political Activists

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November 30, 2010

On Nov. 19, 2010, 45 civil liberty and human rights groups sent a letter to the President and Attorney General urging them to investigate Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) activities that appear to be targeting legitimate political speech and assembly. The letter follows the Sept. 24, 2010 FBI raids of homes and offices of 14 peace and anti-war activists in Minneapolis and Chicago and the subsequent issuance of grand jury subpoenas for and investigation of alleged material support of terrorism. The letter also comes a month after another letter, from nearly 70 organizations, elected officials and academics, was sent to the U.S. Attorney’s office asking the FBI to stop monitoring political activists.  

The Nov. 19 letter says, “[T]hese raids suggest an ongoing trend of intrusive government surveillance of progressive activists in the United States. Prosecutions for protected political activity have a chilling effect, not just in the communities in which they occur, but also on the First Amendment rights of all Americans.”

On Sept. 24, the FBI searched six addresses in Minneapolis and two in Chicago, serving grand jury subpoenas to 14 activists. On the same day, activists in California, North Carolina and Wisconsin were also questioned by law enforcement. The raids sparked country wide protests and all of the activists subpoenaed said they would refuse to testify if called. The subpoenas were cancelled, but on Nov. 5 an attorney for the activists said three subpoenas had been re-activated.

The November letter calls on Congress to “initiate a robust investigation, modeled on the Church Committee, to examine FBI activities, including the practice of targeting protected political speech and assembly. It also asks the DOJ to “amend the Attorney General’s Guidelines and the FBI’s implementing Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) to better respect fundamental constitutional protections.”  The DIOG have drawn widespread criticism from civil liberty advocates since its inception in late 2008.
An Oct. 18 letter to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald from nearly 70 organizations, elected officials and academics requests the FBI to stop covertly infiltrating legitimate political activities, including assembly and protest. “[W]e ask that you stop investigating the protected and legitimate political activities of anti-war and international solidarity activists. This includes the use of undercover informants, which should be halted immediately,” the letter said. 
Masao Suzuki, an activist who had been questioned by the FBI in California on Sept. 24, said, “The government seems to be trying to criminalize the political view of these activists.”
Both letters come on the heels of a September 2010 report by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General that found the FBI had improperly monitored anti-war and environmental activists between 2001 and 2006.  According to the report, FBI agents investigated activists for "factually weak" reasons and even placed individuals from some of the groups on terrorism watch lists.


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