April 3, 2013
Just-released declassified documents reveal new details about government surveillance of peaceful political activism in the name of fighting terrorism:
Government documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) through its FOIA records requests reveal that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an agency created after the September 11 attacks under the rubric of combating terrorism, conducts daily monitoring of peaceful, lawful protests as a matter of policy.
Functioning as a secret political police force against people participating in lawful, peaceful free speech activity, the heavily redacted documents show that the DHS “Threat Management Division” directed Regional Intelligence Analysts to provide a “Daily Intelligence Briefing” that includes a category of reporting on “Peaceful Activist Demonstrations” along with “Domestic Terrorist Activity.” (p. 68)
The nationwide surveillance system has become the contemporary version of J. Edgar Hoover’s Gestapo-style FBI, watching, subverting, and harassing political dissenters in an extra-legal environment that disregards the First Amendment.
The DHS has used the inflated powers granted to it post-9/11 to expand the definition of “domestic terrorist” to anyone who disagrees with the government and acts on it. Senate investigations on what are called “fusion centers” – essentially DHS intelligence-sharing centers – concluded they did not act to disrupt terrorist plots and spent most of their time monitoring and trying to disrupt political dissidents, specifically “Ron Paul supporters, the ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights.”
Muslim communities across the nation have been acutely spied on, intimidated, and persecuted by the FBI and DHS, as revealing Associated Press investigations have repeatedly demonstrated. More than that, as Trevor Aaronson’s new book The Terror Factory painstakingly documents, Muslims have also served as a scapegoat under an elaborate system of entrapment that targets vulnerable lowlifes with little capacity to do harm absent FBI enabling.
In the summer of 2011, The Washington Post reported on “a mysterious, ongoing nationwide terrorism investigation [by the FBI] with an unusual target: prominent peace activists and politically active labor organizers.”
The apparent targets, all vocal and visible critics of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and South America, deny any ties to terrorism. They say the government, using its post-9/11 focus on terrorism as a pretext, is targeting them for their political views.
They are “public non-violent activists with long, distinguished careers in public service, including teachers, union organizers and antiwar and community leaders,” said Michael Deutsch, a Chicago lawyer and part of a legal team defending those who believe they are being targeted by the investigation.
Think of the resources – billions of dollars and massive human effort – wasted on abridging the free speech rights of America’s political dissidents. This is what happens when the government is given the power and a blank check to perform seemingly legitimate functions like protecting us from terrorists.
But since there is not enough of a terrorist threat to obstruct, the state has been busy countering the real threat they face: dissent.