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U.S. officials spy on activists across the political spectrum

If you’re in a mood to feel like a targeted victim of government, you don’t need to be a libertarian, or a lefty, or a righty or a tea-partier, or even a Muslim. Nope, it turns out  that the simple act of speaking out in a way that’s critical of the government, or even just a bit outside the mainstream, is enough to get you monitored, referenced in a file and tagged as an enemy of the state. That’s right — there’s room for everybody to play!

A new report (PDF) from the American Civil Liberties Union details surveillance by local, state and federal officials — separately and jointly — of peaceful political activists, protesters and organizations over the past decade. A random sampling of surveillance activities, sometimes including interference with lawful protest, includes these examples:

Military Intelligence Spied on Alaskans for Peace. According to an Electronic Frontier Foundation FOIA, military intelligence spied on the anti-war group Alaskans for Peace and Justice in 2005.

FBI Infiltration of Islamic Center. An FBI agent testified in court in 2009 that an informant had been planted at an Islamic Center in Irvine, California. Surveillance has prompted some Muslims to avoid mosques and cut charitable contributions out of fear of being questioned or branded as ‘extremists.’

Costa County Sheriff’s Homeland Security Unit Officers Infiltrate Union Demonstration. When Southern California Safeway store workers went on strike in 2003–2004, a delegation of religious leaders planned a pilgrimage to the Safeway CEO’s home to deliver postcards supporting the striking workers. Sheriff’s deputies from Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Homeland Security Unit went to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), and staff directed them to a contact number on a flyer. Despite the fact that the sheriff’s department had been in contact with the pilgrimage organizers—union leaders saw the same sheriff’s deputies in plainclothes attending a demonstration at a Safeway store in San Francisco.

FBI JTTF Monitors American Indian Movement, Peace Groups, and Environmental Groups. In August 2005, the ACLU obtained the documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request containing information on the Colorado American Indian Movement and the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. The files show that JTTF agents opened “domestic terrorism” investigations after they read notices on web sites announcing an antiwar protest in Colorado Springs in 2003 and a protest against Columbus Day in Denver in 2002.

Fusion Center Profiles Modern Militia Movement. The February 2009 Missouri Fusion Center report on “the modern militia movement” claimed militia members are “usually supporters” of presidential candidates Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr.

The majority of the groups and individuals targeted would likely be considered of the political left — particularly if you categorize anti-war activists in those terms. But that seems to be largely a function of the dominance of the federal government by the Republican Bush administration over most of those years. Surveillance continues under the Democratic Obama administration, with the political right targeted by Fusion Center documents like the one above, and in DHS reports on “right-wing extremism.” Muslims are still a popular target, and environmentalists remain on the government’s radar. (Anti-war activists would probably continue to draw attention if the peace movement hadn’t faded with the change of presidents.)

Vegans have been scrutinized by the fuzz, too, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom.

Basically, this emphasizes the point made time and again that police-state activities aren’t a wholly owned subsidiary of either Democrats or Republicans, and salvation isn’t found in an election that just swaps the politicians of one major party for another. Obama didn’t end Bush’s civil liberties incursions, and returning to office the GOP clowns who authored the PATRIOT Act (largely by rewarming Clinton-era proposals) won’t reverse the current administration’s violations.

The ACLU will monitor illegal domestic spying through its new Spy Files site.

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