Don’t know how I missed this one. Thought it was interesting.
FBI Papers Show Terror Inquiries Into PETA; Other Groups Tracked
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 20, 2005; Page A11
FBI counterterrorism investigators are monitoring domestic U.S. advocacy groups engaged in antiwar, environmental, civil rights and other causes, the American Civil Liberties Union charged yesterday as it released new FBI records that it said detail the extent of the activity.
The documents, disclosed as part of a lawsuit that challenges FBI treatment of groups that planned demonstrations at last year’s political conventions, show the bureau has opened a preliminary terrorism investigation into People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the well-known animal rights group based in Norfolk.
The papers offer no proof of PETA’s involvement in illegal activity. But more than 100 pages of heavily censored FBI files show the agency used secret informants and tracked the group’s events for years, including an animal rights conference in Washington in July 2000, a community meeting at an Indiana college in spring 2003 and a planned August 2004 protest of a celebrity fur endorser.
The documents show the FBI cultivated sources such as a “well insulated” PETA insider, who attended the 2000 meeting to gain credibility “within the animal rights/Ruckus movements.” The FBI also kept information on Greenpeace and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the papers show.
The disclosure comes amid recent revelations about the extent of domestic spying by the government after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Those disclosures include the expansion within the United States of military intelligence and databases covering, among others, peace activists; increased use of “national security letters” by the FBI to examine personal records of tens of thousands of citizens; and, most recently, warrantless eavesdropping of overseas telephone calls and e-mails by U.S. citizens suspected of ties to terrorists.
ACLU leaders contend that the memos show that FBI and government Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country have expanded the definition of domestic terrorism to people who engage in mainstream political activity, including nonviolent protest and civil disobedience.
“The FBI should use its resources to investigate credible threats to national security instead of spending time tracking innocent Americans who criticize government policy, or monitoring groups that have not broken the law,” ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson said. Previously released papers showed that the FBI kept files that mentioned the organizations, she said, “But we didn’t know that they actually launched counterterrorism investigations into these groups.”
FBI officials said that the agency is not using the threat of terrorism to suppress domestic dissent and that is has no alternative but to investigate if a group or its members have ties to others that are guilty or suspected of violence or illegal conduct.
“As a matter of policy, the FBI does not target individuals or organizations for investigation because of any political belief. Somewhere, there has to be a crime attached,” FBI spokesman John Miller said. “At the same time, the fact that you have ties to an organization or political beliefs does not make you immune from ending up in FBI files when you go and commit a crime.”
The status of the PETA inquiry is unclear. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said: “The Justice Department does not comment on or confirm the existence of criminal investigations. All matters referred to the department by the intelligence agencies for purposes of further investigation are taken seriously and thoroughly reviewed.”
PETA general counsel Jeff Kerr called the FBI’s conduct an abuse of power that punishes activists for speaking out.
“These documents show a disturbing erosion of freedom of association and freedom of speech that we’ve taken for granted and that set us apart from oppressive countries like the former Iraq,” Kerr said, adding that the documents show no illegal activity by PETA. “You shouldn’t have to wonder when you go to a speech at a college campus, or when you go to a meeting, whether you’re being surveilled by the FBI. It goes back to the dark days of Nixon and the enemies list.”
John Lewis, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, told a Senate panel in May that environmental and animal rights militants posed the biggest terrorist threats in the United States, citing more than 150 pending investigations.
The ACLU said it received 2,357 pages of files on PETA, Greenpeace, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the ACLU itself. One file referring to the committee included a contact list for students and peace activists who attended a 2002 conference at Stanford University aimed at ending sanctions then in place in Iraq.
The FBI has said that when it interviewed members of groups planning demonstrations at last year’s conventions, it did not yield information into criminal activity. But the agency said the interviews were prompted by specific threats. The latest data lay out a similar, broader pattern regarding 150 groups whose FBI files the ACLU has asked to see.
For example, a June 19, 2002, e-mail cites a source offering information on Greenpeace regarding “activists who show a clear predisposition to violate the law.” Other documents contain suspicions that PETA funds, supports or otherwise acts as a front for “eco-terrorist” groups that use arson, bombs or vandalism, such as the Animal Liberation Front or Earth Liberation Front.
Good interview about this on DemocracyNow.com
Newly released documents show counterterrorism agents at the FBI have been monitoring domestic organizations active in causes as diverse as peace, the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief. The documents came as part of a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. We are joined today by members of three groups under FBI surveillance: Greenpeace, PETA and the Catholic Worker. [includes rush transcript] Newly released documents show counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been monitoring domestic organizations active in causes as diverse as peace, the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief.
This is the third major recent revelation about domestic spying in the last few days. Last week NBC News revealed the Pentagon has been monitoring peaceful anti-war protesters and the New York Times exposed how President Bush ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without court-approved warrants. The latest batch of files totals more than 2,300 pages and centers on references in internal files to a handful of groups including Greenpeace, Catholic Worker, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and PETA, the People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The documents indicate the FBI monitored protests organized by the groups and used confidential informants inside the organizations to gain intelligence. One document indicates that FBI agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a “Vegan Community Project.” Another document talks of the Catholic Workers’ “semi-communistic ideology.” A third indicates the bureau’s interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Many of the investigative documents turned over by the bureau are heavily edited, making it difficult or impossible to determine the full context of the references and why the F.B.I. may have been discussing events like a PETA protest.
* Matt Daloisio, of the New York Catholic Worker. * John Passacantando, Executive Director Greenpeace USA. * Jeff Kerr, General Counsel of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
AMY GOODMAN: We talk to the watched, Jeff Kerr, General Counsel and Director of Corporate Affairs of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; Matt Daloisio of the New York Catholic Worker; and John Passacantando of Greenpeace USA, he?s the Executive Director. Let?s begin with John Passacantando; what do you know about what they know about you?
JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Well, good morning, Amy. We know that the F.B.I., since January 1, 2000, gathered approximately 2,400 pages of information on Greenpeace. This is everything from copies of web pages to reports by corporate-funded think tanks doing analysis of Greenpeace; it’s clippings; it’s write ups of protests, peaceful protests that we have engaged in; and that’s about half of it. The other half of it has been redacted. It’s blanked-out pages. So you can’t tell if there’s eavesdropping. You cannot tell if there’s intercepted email traffic. You simply can?t tell; you get multiple boxes of photocopied paper, and only half of them actually have the print still on them.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Kerr, you’re with PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We have been looking at documents that are almost fully redacted, except for the name of PETA.
JEFF KERR: Good morning, Amy. Yes, you’re right. What the documents show, as far as we can tell, is a gross abuse of power and a waste of resources, as the F.B.I. investigates and infiltrates an organization that it admits in these documents is a lawful charity engaged in First Amendment-protected free speech activity. It’s outrageous, and this kind of secret spying has got to stop.
AMY GOODMAN: What exactly do you understand the F.B.I. has been doing in your case?
JEFF KERR: Well, to the extent we can glean it from the documents, we know they’re surveilling speeches on college campuses. We know they have gone to some of our protests on public sidewalks, where people are laying naked in a cage to protest cruelty in the fur trade, and we know that they have harassed and questioned our employees on roadsides, and we know they have gone to their homes and businesses to interview them. There’s really just such a wasteful type of threat that comes through this, and one indication in one of the documents, Amy, there’s reference made where they accuse us of being actively involved in a campaign against a company that we had protested six years before that and hadn’t done anything previously. You know, the American people know the difference between a terrorist and somebody in a chicken suit handing out a leaflet against KFC’s practices. But the F.B.I. apparently doesn’t seem to know that.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Daloisio, you’re with the New York Catholic Worker. What have you read in the documents?
MATT DALOISIO: From the documents I?ve seen, it looks like the F.B.I. was concerned with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker and their work around Vandenberg Air Force Base and National Missile Defense. Mostly, it seems just sad that the F.B.I. would use resources to investigate a group that’s always open about what we do and take responsibility for what we do and is really based in a faith that believes in the God-given dignity of every human being.
AMY GOODMAN: The documents refer to the Catholic Worker?s semi-communist ideology.
MATT DALOISIO: Yes, I guess if we are against war and working with people who are poor, that makes us semi-communistic.
AMY GOODMAN: You have just returned from a very unusual protest, perhaps the first of its kind, a group of people who went down to Cuba, walked – why don’t you describe what you did?
MATT DALOISIO: It was a group of 25 people, mostly Catholic Workers, ranging in age from 24 to 79, who walked 107 kilometers from Santiago to Cuba to Guantanamo, to the military checkpoint outside Guantanamo, where we stayed for four days, fasting and praying and calling on the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon to let us in to visit the prisoners. George Bush had invited the international community down if they thought that torture was happening at the base, and we accepted his invitation.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened when you got there?
MATT DALOISIO: Our phone calls were transferred around, and we weren’t allowed into the base, but we were able to maintain a presence there, 15 kilometers from the prison itself, closer than family members of these men have been in the last four years.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know if any of them were aware of your presence?
MATT DALOISIO: We have word from lawyers who are representing people at Guantanamo that they are going to inform the prisioners that we have responded to especially those on hunger strike, who now are being force-fed.
AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t the area around Guantanamo, this unusual situation where the U.S. has a military base there, but, of course, it’s surrounded by Cuba, that it?s the most heavily land-mined area around that base?
MATT DALOISIO: Yes, it’s a U.S. base on sovereign Cuban territory. There’s a U.S. fence, and then a no man’s land full of land mines, and then a Cuban fence. And we were about seven kilometers from the Cuban fence, in what is a Cuban military zone.
AMY GOODMAN: What were the Cubans? response to this walk?
MATT DALOISIO: We were very open about what we wanted to do, and we were able to work with the Cubans so that we didn’t put any Cubans at risk. We know we come from a country that just invaded another country based on lies, and we didn’t want to cause any provocation or problems for Cuba.
AMY GOODMAN: How did the people of Cuba respond?
MATT DALOISIO: We were able to set up camp in people’s backyards in Cuba, and the hospitality was amazing. Try to imagine 25 Cubans showing up at an American’s front door, asking if they could pitch their tents. So we were very lucky with our interactions with the Cuban people.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Kerr, what about the issue of informants in PETA? How exactly is this monitoring taking place? What?s your understanding?
JEFF KERR: Well, there are sort of two responses to that. The first one, to kind of touch on what John said at the outset, and that is how silly it is that they would need to do that for organizations like those represented on this call, that are completely open about everything they do. For example, with PETA, we send out press releases about all of our activities, and you can go to our website at PETA.org to see everything that we do.
The second point, though, Amy, and the things that’s the most concerning is that people don’t really know. The American people don’t fully know how these infiltrations are being done, the Congress doesn’t know, and that’s part of the problem with this kind of secret domestic spying. The notion that anybody can infiltrate a completely open organization is silly and further indication of a waste of resources.
AMY GOODMAN: We were just showing a document on our TV broadcast, and for radio listeners, we’ll put it online at DemocracyNow.org, that says that PETA imports people from Asia or brings them in to commit criminal acts.
JEFF KERR: I must have missed that job description, but, I mean, it’s just beyond ludicrous that something like that would even make it into an F.B.I. file. You know, like I said, any thinking person knows the difference between somebody standing on a street corner and handing out a leaflet or engaging in protest and actively working for change in this society, whether it be for animal protection, the environment, for peace, whatever it may be, but, you know, there’s this wastefulness of resources, and what can only be seen as targeting people, because of this acknowledgement of this lawful activity by the F.B.I., can only be seen as a targeting of people because of the company they keep and the points of view that they espouse, and that’s just wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: John Passacantando, head of Greenpeace, The New York Times says, ?In the case of Greenpeace, which is known for highly publicized acts of civil disobedience, like the boarding of cargo ships to unfurl protest banners, the files indicate that the F.B.I. investigated possible financial ties between its members and militant groups like Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front. These networks, which have no declared leaders and are only loosely organized, have been described by the F.B.I. in congressional testimony as extremist special interest groups whose cells engage in violent or other illegal acts, making them a serious domestic terrorist threat.? Your response?
JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Well, it’s a classic smear campaign. This administration has used the power it was able to consolidate post-9/11 to turn around and not find the terrorists, not find the threats to the country, but to try to intimidate the peaceful groups that oppose this administration’s policies, whether it be foreign wars or rolling back environmental laws. So, you have a group like Greenpeace, we have a perfect 35-year record of nonviolence, of peaceful activities, but we also have a record of opposing those in power who are destroying our environment.
And so, what do we get? We get a massive F.B.I. file. We get all sorts of surveillance. We just finished a three-month audit. The IRS, they told us it was a politically referred audit. They came in, they were in our offices for three months. Now, we came out with a clean bill of health. They came out, raving about the way we keep our books. Nevertheless, what you end up reading in The New York Times is that the F.B.I. is investigating links. It?s a smear campaign. What we?ve got is a return to Hoover’s F.B.I., Hoover’s F.B.I. which was insinuating things about Martin Luther King. You have a return to Nixon’s IRS, where they were literally doing IRS audits against the organizations and people on Richard Nixon’s enemies list. That is what we have returned to today under George Bush and Dick Cheney.
AMY GOODMAN: John Passacantando, I want to thank you for being with us, of Greenpeace USA; Matt Daloisio, a member of the New York Catholic Worker; and Jeff Kerr, General Counsel and Director of Corporate Affairs. PETA. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Amazing the shit that we don’t hear about on ABC news.