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Presenting documentary evidence of FBI political spying, ACLU files FOIA request on behalf of 16 organizations and 10 individuals
At a news conference held today at the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado (ACLU), Legal Director Mark Silverstein presented documentary evidence that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (“JTTF”), contrary to its public statements, has been collecting information about the peaceful protest activities of Colorado residents and the constitutionally-protected activities of law-abiding advocacy groups.
“The FBI is collecting information about nonviolent protesters and law abiding organizations whose issues are as varied as animal rights, protection of the environment, labor rights, United States military policies, social and economic justice in Latin America, and the treatment of Native Americans,” Silverstein said. “Their advocacy and expressive activities have nothing to do with terrorism.”
The Colorado ACLU also announced that under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it had filed a formal request on behalf of 16 organizations and 10 individuals to obtain additional documents about the monitoring of their expressive activities by the Denver Division of the FBI and the Denver-based Joint Terrorism Task Force. The FOIA request is part of a nation-wide ACLU campaign, launched today, to uncover the full extent of FBI political surveillance. The national ACLU and at least a half-dozen additional state ACLU affiliates filed similar requests for FBI documents today.
According to the ACLU, all of its 26 clients have documentary evidence or strong grounds to believe that the FBI has obtained information about their nonviolent expressive activities. The evidence presented at the news conference includes the following:
- Documents the ACLU obtained in the Denver Spy Files litigation include a binder kept by the Intelligence Unit of the Denver Police Department (DPD). One tab is 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 a number of the ACLU’s clients, including the American Friends Service Committee, the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, and The Human Bean Company.
- A written report stating that in April, 1999, JTTF agent Tom Fisher monitored two peaceful demonstrations in Denver protesting the bombing of Serbia and obtained information about planning for additional protests.
- A two-page fax that the intelligence unit of the Colorado Springs police department provided to JTTF agent Tom Fisher. The fax lists the license plate numbers, and the names corresponding to them, of participants in a nonviolent protest outside a convention of a lumber industry association. Environmental groups had organized the peaceful demonstration to protest timber industry practices. The fax cover sheet indicates that the JTTF Agent Tom Fisher asked for the list of names.
- Five separate emails from the DPD Spy Files. Each was originally sent by political activists about upcoming First Amendment activity, such as a rally about Palestine, an animal rights protest, a possible rally in Aspen, an announcement for Transform Columbus Day, and a schedule of events. Although these emails were originally directed to supporters and potential participants, law enforcement officers received them electronically and forwarded them, not only to the DPD Intelligence Bureau, but also to the FBI.
- An FBI “Intelligence Bulletin” sent to law enforcement agencies in October, 2003, titled “Tactics Used During Protests and Demonstrations.” The Bulletin asked police to “be alert” to “possible indicators of protest activity.” It urged police to “report any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.” According to Silverstein, the Bulletin represents “a standing invitation to inform the JTTF about constitutionally protected organizing and advocacy as well as plans for symbolic nonviolent civil disobedience.”
- Documents indicating that intelligence officers from at least two dozen Colorado law enforcement agencies trade political intelligence information at bimonthly meetings of the Multi-Agency Group Intelligence Conference (MAGIC). MAGIC documents state that meetings are “limited to sharing of information on extremist groups.” Agendas for these meetings, however, reveal that subjects of discussion have included peaceful protesters and law-abiding organizations, such as the American Friends Service Committee and Amnesty International. Silverstein said that the ACLU of Colorado wants to find out whether JTTF agents, operating under recently-relaxed guidelines, now attend or receive briefings about information exchanged at MAGIC meetings.
- The ACLU also presented evidence that Bill Sulzman, a former Catholic priest active with Citizens for Peace in Space in Colorado Springs, is falsely listed in an FBI database as a “member of a terrorist organization.”
“This evidence of political surveillance raises questions whether the FBI’s anti-terrorism unit unjustifiably regards dissent or criticism of government policies as potential terrorist activity,” Silverstein said. “That poses a tremendous risk of chilling individuals and organizations from taking part in the free exchange of viewpoints that is the basis for our democracy. We don’t want to go back to the era of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, when Americans feared that speaking out would result in an FBI dossier.”