In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began spying on a number of liberal groups under ambiguous new terror laws, a US Department of Justice report states.
The reports states that the FBI misled the Justice Department
According to the report, the FBI carried out "unreasonable and inconsistent" investigations into environmental pressure group Greenpeace, animal rights organization PETA and a number of pacifist groups in the United States after 9/11.
Under Homeland Security laws brought in to safeguard the US from terrorist activities, the report showed that the FBI improperly investigated Greenpeace and PETA, along with the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh anti-war organization, the Catholic Worker, another anti-war group, and an individual Quaker peace activist between 2001 and 2006.
According to the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, the five domestic terror investigations carried out by the FBI had "little or no basis" and were "unreasonable and inconsistent with FBI policy." The report also stated that the FBI "made false and misleading statements to Congress" about the investigations, wrongly classifying them under "domestic terrorism cases" in an effort to pursue surveillance operations against the liberal organizations.
The investigations were based on "potential crimes" including trespassing and vandalism which the FBI misclassified under acts of terror. The report said that these crimes "could alternatively have been classified differently," which would have negated the need for anti-terror investigations into the targeted organizations.
The report added that in several cases, the FBI's justification for investigation was "factually weak" and that there was "little indication of any possible federal crime as opposed to local crime."
The FBI were part of the anti-terror fusion groups created after 9/11
"After 9/11, one of the most worrying aspects of that investigation was the lack of coordination between US security services," Clive Walker, professor of criminal justice studies at the University of Leeds, told Deutsche Welle. "This led to the establishment of fusion groups across the US which were supposed to reduce the barriers between organizations. They fused policing, intelligence and public security functions."
"The driving force behind these groups was the fight against terrorism but in most places in the US, there really isn't a terrorist threat - so these well-funded groups, which included the FBI, had to find something to justify their existence, such as going after groups like Greenpeace and PETA under the guise of domestic terror prevention."
PETA investigation leads to members joining US terror list
PETA was first put under surveillance in the spring of 2001, a number of months before the September 11 terror attacks, when the FBI started to investigate possible connections between one of the group's members and the extremist Animal Liberation Front. The Bureau believed the PETA member was providing financial support which could aid activist missions to destroy property or attack research facilities involved in the practice of testing on animals.
After the attacks of 9/11, the investigation rapidly expanded to cover the entire PETA operation, its activities and those of a number of its affiliate organizations. Despite no criminal activity ever being documented, the investigation lasted for nearly six years and led to two innocent individuals being placed on the domestic terror watch list until 2006.
PETA protests such as this were monitored by the FBI
"The FBI investigation into PETA took the form of surveillance of entirely lawful free speech activities, including speeches on college campuses and public demonstrations by activists in chicken costumes and other props PETA uses frequently," Harold Ullman, vice president of PETA Germany, told Deutsche Welle. "There is no justification for such police state tactics. People speaking out on behalf of animals should be protected not placed under surveillance."
"The use of McCarthyist tactics against PETA and other groups that speak out against cruelty to animals and exploitative corporate and government practices is un-American, unconstitutional, and against the interests of a healthy democracy," Ullman added. "PETA's effective activism scares well-heeled business interests that abuse animals, but when these outfits used their connections to violate the US Constitution, the FBI's ham-fisted attempt to catch us with our pants down resulted in the FBI being caught with its pants down."
FBI suspected Greenpeace was planning Alaska pipeline attack
The FBI believed Greenpeace would take violent action
The Greenpeace investigation started in 1999 when the FBI launched an operation to prevent the suspected disruption by activists of corporate shareholder meetings of two Alaskan energy producers. The protests never took place but the investigation continued for a further three years regardless.
The inspector general's report stated that that the FBI "articulated little or no basis for suspecting a violation of any federal criminal statute" in the Greenpeace case and that the FBI crossed the line when it decided to continue its investigation "beyond the point at which its underlying justification no longer existed."
"We have yet to hold a discussion with the FBI about these investigations, although we will seek such a discussion," Mark Floegel, a spokesperson for Greenpeace US, told Deutsche Welle.
"We've only seen the justification in the report itself, which in some cases was based on irresponsible reports from what we presume are third parties. In one section, the report refers to a report that someone at Greenpeace expressed a desire to blow up the Alaska pipeline. Even a superficial investigation into Greenpeace history would show Greenpeace has always condemned violence and such an act would violate our principles."
"So far, no compensation or offer of an apology has been forthcoming from the FBI," he added.
Both Greenpeace and PETA told Deutsche Welle that, to their knowledge, no investigations were carried out into their activities post-9/11 by European security agencies.
FBI denies targeting groups on grounds of dissent
In response to the Department of Justice report, the FBI maintained that it had not led any investigation into an organization's activities based on an issue of free speech and that it had not been instructed to carry out any reforms to its procedures as a result.
"After more than four years of investigation and an exhaustive review of hundreds of investigative decisions the FBI made after the September 11 attacks, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) did not uncover even a single instance where the FBI targeted any group or any individual based on the exercise of a First Amendment right," read a statement provided by the FBI to Deutsche Welle.
"While the OIG disagreed with a handful of the FBI’s investigative determinations over the course of six years, it has not recommended any significant modifications to the FBI’s authority to investigate criminal conduct or national security threats."
Ambiguous laws lead to terror definition problems
Terror laws after 9/11 were flexible and open to abuse
Professor Clive Walker believes that ambiguous language and badly defined terms left the security legislation in the US open to interpretation, a situation which in turn created an environment in which the Greenpeace and PETA investigations could be carried out under anti-terror laws.
"The US laws brought in after 9/11 were pretty flexible but the main problem was their definition of terrorism," he said. "It's very vague and therefore open to interpretation which leads to definitional problems in terms of mission objectives and applications."
"It's cynical to say that the FBI used this ambiguity to manipulate the laws to suit their needs but the truth is, it is a recurring theme in the Bureau's history," he added. "Since its formation there have been examples of this, such as the communist scare in the 1950's and the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960's. Defining dissent as a crime is not a new thing."
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge