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Spy Files Documents Reveal Political Spying by FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force

In connection with the litigation over the Denver Police Department’s Spy Files, the ACLU of Colorado obtained documents that indicate that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) has been gathering information and building files on the activities of peaceful protesters who have no connection to terrorism or any other criminal activity.

The FBI has set up 66 JTTFs around the country that are staffed with FBI agents as well as detectives from local law enforcement agencies who are assigned to work full-time with the FBI. Detective Tom Fisher of the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence Unit was assigned to the Denver JTTF from 1997 until he retired in 2005. As Detective Fisher explained in a statement signed in connection with the Spy Files case, his only responsibilities as a law enforcement officer since 1997 have been as part of the FBI’s JTTF. Since 2003, the Denver Police Department has assigned two full-time detectives to the JTTF. As of 2005, they are detective Stephen MacKenna and detective Snow White.

The following documents from the Denver police department’s Spy Files provide a peek into the secretive world of the JTTF and the kind of information it has been collecting about peaceful First Amendment activities.

Names and license numbers of peaceful demonstrators protesting NATO’s bombing of Serbia
In April, 1999, JTTF agent Tom Fisher, joined by two members of the Denver Intelligence Unit, monitored two peaceful demonstrations protesting the bombing of Serbia. According to the report, detectives followed one participant to her car three blocks away, apparently to get her license number so she could be identified.

Names and license plate numbers of peaceful demonstrators
Fax dated June 25, 2002, from Colorado Springs Intelligence Unit to Kathy Miklich of the DPD Intelligence Unit. The North American Wholesale Lumber Association held its annual convention at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs in June, 2002. Environmentalist and conservationist groups organized a peaceful demonstration to express their concern that practices of the lumber industry pose a threat to endangered old-growth forests. The Colorado Springs police provided the Denver Intelligence Unit with a two-page list of names and license plate numbers of participants in the nonviolent protest. The cover sheet indicates that the list of names and plates would be forwarded to Tom Fisher of the JTTF, who was apparently expecting the information. An FBI spokesperson admitted that the agency requested the list of plate numbers.

Report on person promoting documentary film that criticizes FBI
Intelligence Bureau Information Summary, Oct. 19, 1999, reporting on an individual handing out flyers advertising the showing of a documentary that criticizes the FBI. A handwritten note indicates the report will be faxed to Tom Fisher at the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Intercepted email announcing protest by animal rights organization
Email sent to members of Rocky Mountain Animal Defense about Fur Free Friday, dated November 7, 2001. This email was intercepted by Tim DeLaria of the CU Boulder police department. DeLaria forwarded it to Kathy Miklich and George Kennedy of the DPD Intelligence Unit. He also forwarded it to Tom Fisher of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Intercepted email announcing rally about Palestine
Email announcing a rally about Palestine at the state capitol in Denver on April 5, 2002. This email was intercepted by Scott Matthewson of the Federal Protective Service, who forwarded it Ahmad Taha of the same agency, who then forwarded it to David Pontarelli of the DPD Intelligence Unit. Matthewson also forwarded the email to the FBI.

Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List
A 3-ring binder maintained by the Denver Intelligence Unit contains a section labeled “Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List.” The pages in that section consist of printouts made in April, 2002, from the web sites of such local Colorado groups as Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, American Friends Service Committee, Denver Justice and Peace Committee, Rocky Mountain Independent Media Center, and the Human Bean Company. The circling and highlighting in the documents was provided by the Denver police Intelligence Unit after the pages were printed out from the internet.

Page from web site of Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, found in section of Denver Police Spy Files binder labeled “Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List”

Page from web site of American Friends Service Committee, found in section of Denver Police Spy Files binder labeled “Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List”

Denver Activist Legal Trainings, found in section of Denver Spy Files binder labeled “Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List.”

“Extremists” listed in FBI’s Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File
In anticipation of the 2002 Olympics, the Joint Terrorism Task Force added “anarchists” and eight separate categories of “extremists” (such as “environmental extremist” and “Black extremist”) to the FBI’s computer database known as the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF). When patrol officers routinely check the name of a driver or a suspect in the computer of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the VGTOF database is automatically searched, too. A patrol officer who encounters a VGTOF “hit” is expected to notify the FBI. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are more than 7000 individuals listed in VGTOF as “terrorists,” many of whom have no criminal records. Ann Davis, “Data Collection Is Up Sharply Following 9/11,” Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2003, at B1. Colorado Springs peace activist Bill Sulzman is apparently listed in VGTOF as a “terrorist,” according to an article in the Colorado Springs Independent.

FBI Memo re Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF)

Denver patrol officer’s memo memorializing a VGTOF “hit”, August 24, 2002

Local Peace Activist May be on FBI List, Colorado Springs Independent, June 6-12, 2002

Intercepted email regarding a protest of the Aspen Institute’s Summit on Globalization and the Human Condition
On the morning of July 13, 2000, Pavlos Stravropolous sent an email to supporters of the Direct Action Network (DAN) announcing an informational meeting to discuss events that the Aspen Institute was sponsoring the following month. The email was forwarded a few hours later to the Waake-up list, with additional information saying that the meeting would discuss plans for a protest and counter-conference to be conducted in Aspen. This email was intercepted by Tim DeLaria of the CU Boulder police department, who quickly forwarded it to George Kennedy of the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence Unit. Kennedy replied that he would forward the email to Tom Fisher of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, who was expected to “contact someone” in Aspen.

Intercepted email regarding plans for Transform Columbus Day
In August, 2002, Scott A. Matthewson of the Federal Protective Service intercepted an email containing information about the Transform Columbus Day events planned for Denver in October. He forwarded the intercepted email to the intelligence unit of the Colorado Springs Police Department as well as JTTF officer Don Estep and the Denver FBI office. Ahmad Taha of the Federal Protective Service forwarded the same email to David Pontarelli of the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence Unit.

Intercepted email regarding schedule for Denver activist event
In the summer of 2002, Denver activists planned a several-day event billed as the “Flying Circus.” On July 30, Scott A. Matthewson of the Federal Protective Service intercepted an email containing a schedule for the event. He forwarded it to the intelligence unit of the Colorado Springs Police Department as well as JTTF officer Don Estep and the Denver FBI office. Ahmad Taha of the Federal Protective Service forwarded the same email to David Pontarelli of the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence Unit.

JTTF trains Denver police about “criminal tactics of protest extremists”
In connection with the ACLU’s litigation over the Denver police Spy Files, JTTF agent Tom Fisher signed a three-page statement, explaining that he trains Denver police on “domestic terrorism” and the tactics of what he calls “protest extremists.”

More information about the Joint Terrorism Task Force