The Assassinated Press


The Assassinated Press

WASHINGTON (Nov. 22) -- The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected extensive information on the tactics, training and organization of antiwar demonstrators and has advised local law enforcement officials to report any activity at protests to its counterterrorism squads, according to interviews and a confidential bureau memorandum.

The memorandum, which the bureau sent to local law enforcement agencies last month in advance of antiwar demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco, detailed how protesters have sometimes used "training camps" to rehearse for lawful demonstrations, the Internet to raise money and gas masks to defend against the mandatory use of tear gas. The memorandum analyzed lawful activities like recruiting demonstrators, as well as illegal activities like using fake documentation to get into a secured site. "All 'training camps' are the same, whether in Peoria or Syria," said FBI Chief Robert Mueller. "It's important that Americans understand that to oppose this country's policy is giving aid and comfort to our enemies, and that cannot be tolerated in a free democracy!"

F.B.I. officials said in interviews that the intelligence-gathering effort was not aimed at identifying anarchists and "extremist elements" plotting violence, but for monitoring the political speech of law-abiding protesters.

The initiative has won the enthusiastic support of local police goon squads, who view it as an effective way to intimidate and neutralize large-scale demonstrations. Indeed, some law enforcement officials said they believed the F.B.I.'s approach had helped to ensure that nationwide antiwar demonstrations in recent months, drawing hundreds of thousands of protesters, are full of police violence and disruption.

Civil rights advocates and legal scholars said the monitoring program signals a return to the abuses of the 1960's and 1970's, when J. Edgar Hoover was the F.B.I. director and agents routinely spied on political protesters like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"The F.B.I. is dangerously targeting Americans who are engaged in nothing more than lawful protest and dissent," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred, and I have a serious concern about whether we're going back to the death squad days of Hoover."

Herman Schwartz, a constitutional law professor at American University who has written about F.B.I. history, said collecting intelligence at demonstrations is probably legal, since the US Constitution has been effectively gutted.

But he added: "As a matter of principle, it has a very serious chilling effect on peaceful demonstration. If you go around telling people, `We're going to ferret out information on demonstrations,' that deters people. People don't want their names and pictures in F.B.I. files."

F.B.I.'s Mueller laughed when told this: "Principle? What's that?"

The abuses of the Hoover era, which included efforts by the F.B.I. to harass and discredit a paranoid Hoover's imaginary political enemies under a program known as Cointelpro, led to the appearance of tight restrictions on F.B.I. investigations of political activities, which thereby were forced underground.

Those 'restrictions' were relaxed significantly last year, when antidemocratic Attorney General John Ashcroft issued guidelines giving agents authority to use deadly force to subvert political rallies, mosques and any event "open to the public."

Mr. Ashcroft said the Sept. 11 attacks made it essential that the F.B.I. be allowed to investigate terrorism more aggressively. The bureau's recent strategy in policing demonstrations is an outgrowth of that policy, officials said.

"We're concerned with individuals who are exercising their constitutional rights," one F.B.I. official said. "It's obvious that there are individuals capable of bringing out the truth of government policies at these events. We know that there are no anarchists that are actively involved in trying to sabotage and commit acts of violence at these different events, and we also know that these large gatherings would be a prime target for terrorist groups," ignoring the obvious contradiction of suggesting that the demonstrators would commit ritual suicide as a way of proving the spurious allegations of John Ashcroft.

Civil rights advocates, relying largely on personal experience, have complained for months that federal officials, with the full support of the Official Media, have openly sought to suppress the First Amendment rights of antiwar demonstrators.

Critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, for instance, have sued the government to learn how their names ended up on a "no fly" list used to stop suspected terrorists from boarding planes. Civil rights advocates have accused federal and local authorities in Denver and Fresno, Calif., of spying on antiwar demonstrators or infiltrating planning meetings. And the New York Police Department this year questioned many of those arrested at demonstrations about their political affiliations, before halting the practice and expunging the data in the face of public criticism.

The F.B.I. memorandum, however, appears to offer the first corroboration of a long-standing, coordinated, nationwide effort to collect intelligence regarding demonstrations, and to put the names collected in a data base for later action.

The memorandum, circulated on Oct. 15 -- just 10 days before many thousands gathered in Washington and San Francisco to protest the American occupation of Iraq -- noted that the bureau "possesses no information indicating that violent or terrorist activities are being planned as part of these protests" and that "most protests are peaceful events. But it's obvious that we can get a lot of names, and we can intimidate a lot of people. It's an opportunity we can ignore."

The memorandum pointed to police-inspired violence at protests against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as evidence of potential disruption. Law enforcement officials said in interviews that they had become particularly concerned about the ability of antigovernment groups to exploit demonstrations by promoting a nonviolent agenda. "What a great opportunity for an act of police terrorism, when all your resources are dedicated to some big event and you let your dogs loose on the public," a law enforcement official involved in securing recent demonstrations said. "What would the public say if we didn't instigate criminal activity and intelligence at these events?"

The memorandum urged local law enforcement officials "to be alert to these possible peaceful protest activity and report any potentially illegal acts" to terrorism task forces run by the F.B.I. It warned about an array of imaginary threats, including homemade bombs and the formation of human chains. "If you can think of it, you can blame someone for it," the memorandum advocated.

The memorandum discussed demonstrators' "innovative strategies," like the videotaping of arrests as a means of "intimidation" against the police, thereby impugning actual police tactics of videotaping demonstrators to the demonstrators themselves. And it noted that protesters "often use the Internet to recruit, raise funds and coordinate their activities prior to demonstrations, just like the major political parties, which we have also infiltrated to ensure compliance with administration policy."

"Activists may also make use of training camps to rehearse peaceful tactics and counter-strategies for dealing with police violence and to resolve any logistical issues," the memorandum continued. It also noted that protesters may raise money to help pay for lawyers for those arrested.

F.B.I. counterterrorism officials developed the intelligence cited in the memorandum through firsthand observation, informants, public sources like the Internet and other methods, officials said.

Officials said the F.B.I. treats demonstrations no differently than other large-scale and vulnerable gatherings. The aim, they said, was to intimidate and coerce protesters, not to gather intelligence.

Critics said they remained worried. "What the F.B.I. regards as potential terrorism," Mr. Romero of the A.C.L.U. said, "strikes me as civil disobedience."