Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Oh, Those "Dangerous" Pacifists!

We've all heard the rationale. The defenders of domestic spying tell us that no American not collaborating with the enemy should be worried. They've told us that our government is only trying to protect us from violent terrorists bent on destroying America. They've scoffed at the notion that our government would spy on people who simply disagree with the Bush agenda.

For all those people who said these sorts of things and more, I wonder how you feel now that you have egg all over your so-called patriotic face!

Yesterday the ACLU released documents which clearly show that the FBI is keeping files on some groups SOLELY because they oppose the war in Iraq. The FBI isn't claiming that such groups are aiding and abetting the enemy. They aren't claiming that these pacificists are in communications with any known terrorists or terrorist organizations. They aren't claiming that these organizations are funneling money to unsavory individuals.

No, the SOLE criteria that has landed these folks on the FBI watch list and has led to an investigation is that they oppose this stupid war!!
Two documents released today reveal that the FBI investigated gatherings of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice just because the organization opposed the war in Iraq. Although previously disclosed documents show that the FBI is retaining files on anti-war groups, these documents are the first to show conclusively that the rationale for FBI targeting is the group's opposition to the war.

“It makes no sense that the FBI would be spying on peace activists handing out flyers,” said Jim Kleissler, Executive Director of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice. “Our members were simply offering leaflets to passersby, legally and peacefully, and now they’re being investigated by a counter–terrorism unit. Something is seriously wrong in how our government determines who and what constitutes terrorism when peace activists find themselves targeted.”


  1. Naturally I am concerned that too much power can be abused, but I'm also suspicious of how any story is framed. Here are some things to think about... there's just not enough information to really understand much about the situation.

    The article begins by mentioning today's hotseat question on unwarranted wiretapping. Then it moves on to say that the FBI is observing the TMC. A typical propagandist move is to place unrelated ideas next to each other, implying that there is a connection between the two. Is the FBI doing unwarranted wiretapping in relation to their observation of the Thomas Merton Center?

    Someone mentioned "secret" surveillance. I question how the surveillance is secret, if the ACLU (through the Freedom of Information Act) was able to learn that it's going on.

    Spying is a dirty word that raises hackles. What defines spying?

    The Thomas Merton Center is a pretty unlikely source of terrorism, which makes it great fodder for the ACLU story. What other anti-war groups is the FBI observing? Might any of them might be a greater cause for worry?

    What if a U.S. based group begins undertaking domestic terrorism? Who is to blame?

    What sort of outrage might there be if the FBI discriminated among anti-war groups, say, not targeting Christian ones, or not targeting ones that advocate peace? Sensible, or discrimination?

    How about a look at the information the ACLU got?

    The first PDF has precedence listed as Routine and the date is late 2002. (The U.S. did not invade Iraq until March 2003.) The second PDF dated May 2003 is fliers collected (one purpose listed is to combat neo-liberalism... but the FBI defines TMC as a left wing group. A bit of a disconnect?) The third PDF (Feb 2005) has little to no useful information, except that the TMC is mentioned. Who knows what the context is because the rest is blanked out, and apparently there is a source... which could mean anything... The fourth PDF (dated July 2005) has information that they can't share, and an explanation of what statutes the information might fall under (that make it unshareable). The fifth PDF is an FYI for the FBI's use and "any action deemed appropriate" ... which might be... what? And why? This last PDF is also dated before the Iraq invasion (Feb 2003). What was the general state of the country at the time? How was public opinion divided? Right now we're about half-and-half. What was it then?

    What *exactly* sort of surveillance is the FBI doing with the TMC? When did the surveillance start? By what means is information being gathered?

    The information the FBI has gathered seems to all (at least nothing I noticed) be a matter of public record that could be gathered by any interested party.

    The only real conclusion that can be drawn is that the FBI is interested in groups that oppose the Iraq war. And?

    For what other purposes does the FBI watch people? What levels of investigation are there, from watched up to hard-core 24-7 stuff? What level is TMC at (remember, the one thing is listed as routine), and who or what else is in that tier?

    I have several aquaintances with pretty high government clearance. The FBI keeps tabs on those people for 8 years after they stop doing work ... which means, there's probably a file on me, too.

    I'd just like some more perspective here...

  2. I can become burdened over the state of American politics and often wonder just how "active" a Taoist should be. It would appear that every effort at changing things for the better morphs into just another problem with different labels. I admit that I'm often confused by my frustration at the ignorance that so often pervades the game of politics. It reminds me responding to a domestic disturbance call. You are there to help, at their request, and the results blossom into the nature of the scorpion who just "had to" sting the toad when the toad gave him a lift across the pond.

  3. Of course they're gonna spy on American citizens whose only crime was dissenting from Congress or the White House. And of course they're going to say it's only to listen in on Osama bin Laden while he plans his next attack. (Or the Communists or whoever the villain du jour is.) If the government has too much power, this power will be misused.

  4. The practices of J. Edgar Hoover, during his tenure as FBI chief, are being perpetuated, even though we all assumed they had ended long ago. They even kept a file on John Lennon. All he wanted was to give peace a chance. Very sad.


  5. When I was doing research for a blog post on the domestic spying thing recently, I was looking for parallels to the Nixon era and ended up not writing the piece because, except for a few conspiracy-theoryish blog posts, I couldn't confirm that anti-war activists had been spyed on as they had been under Nixon.

    I should have known the other shoe would drop.

  6. I'm just reminded of Chapter 36 of Tao Te Ching (Lin Yutang trans): "He who is to be made to dwindle must first be cause to expand. He who is to be weakened must first be made strong, he who is to be laid low must first be exalted to power."

    The more power the executive takes to itself, the closer it comes to its' own downfall. You have only to look at the history of any empire to see this.


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