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FBI Papers Show PETA Was Watched As Potential Terrorist Threat
by Joe Gandelman

The Washington Post says the FBI monitored the animal rights group People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals as a terrorist threat:

    FBI counterterrorism investigators are monitoring domestic U.S. advocacy groups engaged in antiwar, environmental, civil rights and other causes, the American Civil Liberties Union charged yesterday as it released new FBI records that it said detail the extent of the activity.

    The documents, disclosed as part of a lawsuit that challenges FBI treatment of groups that planned demonstrations at last year's political conventions, show the bureau has opened a preliminary terrorism investigation into People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the well-known animal rights group based in Norfolk.

    The papers offer no proof of PETA's involvement in illegal activity. But more than 100 pages of heavily censored FBI files show the agency used secret informants and tracked the group's events for years, including an animal rights conference in Washington in July 2000, a community meeting at an Indiana college in spring 2003 and a planned August 2004 protest of a celebrity fur endorser.

    The documents show the FBI cultivated sources such as a "well insulated" PETA insider, who attended the 2000 meeting to gain credibility "within the animal rights/Ruckus movements." The FBI also kept information on Greenpeace and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the papers show.

This is not going to help the argument of those who pooh-pooh the need for more stringent Congressional oversight of intelligence matters � or advocate letting the government wiretap whomever it wants without court orders. Because the key argument for the Bush administration and President Bush in his press conference and his speeches is: "Trust us because we only will use these powers for credible threats and lives could be lost if we can't act swiftly."

Is this what happens when they get the keys and near total ownership of the candy store?

This site has NOT been a friend of PETA. In fact, we usually leap at a chance to do a post on PETA's latest campaign because they're usually so far out there stories about their activities are sure fire laugh getters. We also know many serious animal rights advocates...who keep as far away from PETA as possible and feel the group hurts more moderate animal rights organizations by giving their cause a black eye.

But the stories about FBI surveillance do one thing: they raise questions about the criteria used by government officials and you have to ask: if they were monitoring PETA, what other individuals and groups were being monitored? PREDICTION: If there is more to come out, it'll be coming out steadily in the press because this is now a major story.

What did the FBI expect PETA to do? Slate mass hijackings of dogcatcher's trucks?

The New York Times explains more:

    Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

    F.B.I. officials said Monday that their investigators had no interest in monitoring political or social activities and that any investigations that touched on advocacy groups were driven by evidence of criminal or violent activity at public protests and in other settings.

    After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, John Ashcroft, who was then attorney general, loosened restrictions on the F.B.I.'s investigative powers, giving the bureau greater ability to visit and monitor Web sites, mosques and other public entities in developing terrorism leads. The bureau has used that authority to investigate not only groups with suspected ties to foreign terrorists, but also protest groups suspected of having links to violent or disruptive activities.

    But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.

    One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Question: is it truly possible that there are large chunks of legislators from both parties that don't think the time has come to insist that Congress reassert its traditional oversight role � not due to partisan politics but because checks and balances were written into the constitution for a reason. And because SO MUCH is at stake in the areas of civil liberties and potential misuse of valuable resources on matters that may not necessarily pose a threat to U.S. national security.

What next? An investigation into the grave terrorist threat posed by nudist colonies (but the government might encounter stiff resistance there)?



FOOTNOTE: The Post piece also has this paragraph at the very end (to make sure your read it here it is):

    The FBI has said that when it interviewed members of groups planning demonstrations at last year's conventions, it did not yield information into criminal activity. But the agency said the interviews were prompted by specific threats. The latest data lay out a similar, broader pattern regarding 150 groups whose FBI files the ACLU has asked to see.

    For example, a June 19, 2002, e-mail cites a source offering information on Greenpeace regarding "activists who show a clear predisposition to violate the law." Other documents contain suspicions that PETA funds, supports or otherwise acts as a front for "eco-terrorist" groups that use arson, bombs or vandalism, such as the Animal Liberation Front or Earth Liberation Front.

So an internal security threat is now posed by "eco-terrorist" groups? And investigations are continued on the basis of an email source saying activists show 'a clear predisposition to violate the law."

SOME OTHER WEBLOG VOICES ON THIS ISSUE:
--Americablog: "It's time to get mad, really mad."
--Mia Culpa: "My mother used to say that as a child she couldn't turn her back on me for a moment, but never in even her wildest dreams would she have imagined that I, too, could be a target for the FBI or NSA."
--Dan Gillmore: "So the floodgates are opening, as we begin to learn the extent of this administration's spying on dissenters � an unsubtle campaign to stifle serious debate on crucial issues. It's a dismal throwback to the Nixon and McCarthy days, and it's scary."
--Scout Prime:

    So now we know of FBI, NSA and the Pentagon all spying on US citizens. It is so Nixonian. I never thought I would see the return of such actions by our government. I do not disagree with surveillance of terrorists when done within the law however my fear has been the government would over reach to spy on dissidents or activists unrelated to terrorism and it appears I was right to have been fearful. How far has Bush gone? This is very disturbing.

--The Bulldog Manifesto: "Apparently, anti-poverty charities are now a threat to our national security because they promote "semi-communistic ideology." Apparently, protecting the environment is now a threat to our national security. Are they...insane? Apparently, promoting animal rights now threatens national security. Sweet Jesus! When will people wake up and realize that these criminals in power will not stop until they completely rape ole' Lady Liberty?"



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