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Washington Post on FBI "Monitoring" of Website:
An ACLU Freedom of Information Act request has revealed that in the course of investigating the security situation at the 2004 Republican convention, someone at the FBI visited a website of a group that planned to stage protests at the convention — and then wrote an e-mail to agents who were involved in the counterterrorism side of the security picture to let them know about the planned protests announced on the website. You can get a redacted copy of the e-mail here.

  Looking at the document, it seems pretty innocuous to me. Imagine you're an FBI agent trying to get a handle on the security situation at a political convention, and you want all the security people to know what's up. Wouldn't you want to visit the public website that announced major planned protests? And why would you want to keep the counterterror people in the dark about what you found posted on the website?

  The Washington Post offers a more troublesome picture. Here's how the Post reports the FBI's web surfing and e-mailing:
FBI Monitored Web Sites for 2004 Protests
Groups Criticize Agency's Surveillance for Terror Unit

By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 18, 2005; Page A03

  FBI agents monitored Web sites calling for protests against the 2004 political conventions in New York and Boston on behalf of the bureau's counterterrorism unit, according to FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
  The American Civil Liberties Union pointed to the documents as evidence that the Bush administration has reacted to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States by blurring the distinction between terrorism and political protest. FBI officials defended the involvement of counterterrorism agents in providing security for the Republican and Democratic conventions as an administrative convenience.
  The documents were released by the FBI in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of civil rights, animal rights and environmental groups that say they have been subjected to scrutiny by task forces set up to combat terrorism. The FBI has denied targeting the groups because of their political views.
  "It's increasingly clear that the government is involved in political surveillance of organizations that are involved in nothing more than lawful First Amendment activities," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. "It raises very serious questions about whether the FBI is back to its old tricks."
  I suppose you could say that visiting a website and e-mailing someone about what you find is "monitoring" the website "on behalf" of the person you e-mail. But this seems to be a somewhat odd way to describe it. What am I missing? Is the FBI's conduct more troubling than I am suggesting, or is the Washington Post overplaying the story?
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
Orin, considering it's the WaPo, I'll take what's behind Door #2.
7.18.2005 4:47pm
Larry88 (mail):
Barbara, Your analysis is quite insightful. I am glad that you were able to leave politics out of the analysis.
7.18.2005 5:08pm
42USC1983 (mail):
Surveillance of the ACLU? Big deal. The ACLU has the resources and tenacity to sue any abusive FBI agents, so I don't see a problem. Now, had the FBI been monitoring a private citizen, I'd be more concerned. (Still how can the FBI know whether a person or organization is harmless without first monitoring them?)

I don't think anyone think that the FBI's monitoring the ACLU will chilled protected expression. Indeed, rather than cower in a hole, the ACLU went to the Washington Post with its story. Obviously, the ACLU isn't intimidated. This story reminds me of the Dixie Chicks "scandal." From the covers of dozens of newspapers and magazines they screamed: "We're being censored!" Yeah, right.

Hell, if there's anyone with brains inside the ACLU, they'll be able to spin this to their advantage. Their next flyer could read: FBI IS SCARED OF ACLU. NOW MORE THAN EVER, YOUR DONATIONS WILL KEEP US STRONG. Hell, if I were in charge of memberships/donations at the ACLU, I'd be wiggling with joy.
7.18.2005 5:10pm
Steve:
No, visiting a website is nothing insidious, obviously. But as the quote from the ACLU indicates, you have to view this within the context of the FBI's past surveillance of leftist groups, which went a little beyond visiting websites, you might say. I can hardly blame the ACLU for saying this raises questions.
7.18.2005 5:11pm
Scipio (mail) (www):
I'm not sure I see the problem.

Assuming arguendo that the Famous But Incompetent are properly tasked with anti-terrorism work, are not large public protests key targets of opportunity for terrorists? Given that the information is public knowledge, what's so nefarious here?
7.18.2005 5:11pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
IIRC, after 9/11 it was revealed that the FBI was not allowed to use public sources of information in the pursuit of its mission. Everyone clapped their hands to their heads and said: "Gee, that's really stupid." They should be using every avaible tool to find out what is going on.

Now the ACLU and WaPo discover that the FBI, broke its old habits and they are upset.

Its the old leftist trick. Every time they are thwarted, yell: "Your are depriving me of my civil rights." If they can use that cry to befuddle and disable law enforcement, so much the better, the revolution and the condign punishment of the reactionaries are that much closer.
7.18.2005 5:12pm
Al Maviva (mail):
Let's rephrase that article, saying what isn't said.

"The ACLU strongly urges a return to pre-9/11 standards, under which the FBI required a federal search warrant in order to merely look at a website, or even to use Google."
7.18.2005 5:12pm
MJ (mail):
This is the perfect liberal talking point - "Bush is Having The FBI Spy On Political Rivals" - that can surely count on the mainstream media to carry it around under-examined if not unexamined. All of the liberal talking heads will be on the talk shows saying it's "frightening" and "troubling" and "an assault on civil liberties."

But can you imagine the outcry if say someone at one of these protests were to do something as relatively benign as throw a pie at the President or VP? The media would be in FBI/Secret Service Bashing-Mode: How could they not do a better job of protecting the President and VP? After all, the protesters advertised that they were going to protest at the convention on a public website for God's sake!

This will prove to be another example of the conclusion-oriented reasoning that has permeated this entire presidency: The Bush Administration is sinister and evil. The Bush Administration has done something; therefore what they have done must be sinister and evil.
7.18.2005 5:15pm
Nathan Bauer (www):
Well, perhaps the Post's use of "monitoring" and "on behalf" is slightly exaggerated, but that seems a fairly minor complaint. More importantly, the Post gets the general point correct: namely, that there is a legitimate worry concerning a blurring of the boundary between political protest and terrorism. As far as I could tell, there was nothing in the email suggesting any threat of terrorism from these groups. So, why would counter terror people be contacted? If one believes that these boundaries are important, as I do, then the email is a troubling one.
7.18.2005 5:18pm
Scipio (mail) (www):
But how are the Fibbies/Secret Service to know that there is no threat from these protests if they are not permitted to at least know about them from public sources of information?
7.18.2005 5:22pm
JohnO (mail):

More importantly, the Post gets the general point correct: namely, that there is a legitimate worry concerning a blurring of the boundary between political protest and terrorism. As far as I could tell, there was nothing in the email suggesting any threat of terrorism from these groups.


To me that misses the point. Once you accept that a political convention is a potential site for a terrorist attack, it becomes incumbent on the counter-terrorism folks to get as much detail as they can about what the lay of the land will be in the area. I would expect them to do physical site visits in advance and to also know what might be different at the time of the convention (i.e., where will there be masses of people where terrorists could hide or detonate a bomb). Finding out where and when protects will be going on is hardly accusing the protesters as being likely terrorists. Heck, the D.C. government monitors me every time I drive through a red light in town with one of those cameras attached to them.
7.18.2005 5:26pm
42USC1983 (mail):
More irony (hell, it's almost a self-parody): "FBI agents monitored Web sites calling for protests against the 2004 political conventions in New York and Boston on behalf of the bureau's counterterrorism unit, according to FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act."

Yep, that scary ole FBI (yes, it can be scary, but it's not scary here) a) gave the ACLU documents where it admitted to reading the ACLU's public website and b) so intimidated the ACLU that it cowered to the editorial page of the Washington Post.

Yep, score a big one for the FBI.
7.18.2005 5:57pm
Dave! (mail) (www):
It's absolutely possible/probable that the Post is overplaying the story, but that is the purpose of a FOIA request: finding out what the real story is. Could be nothing, but what is the harm in asking?
7.18.2005 5:57pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
1) The FBI has a history of abusing its powers against groups that protest or oppose the Executive Branch. It's called Abscam; look into it. In that context, there's plenty of reason for concern -- unless you think history should be ignored.

2) I'd much rather have counter-terror people spend their time in a more productive fashion than monitoring the ACLU or Greenpeace. To think otherwise, you have to accept the assumption that there's something about the ACLU or Greenpeace that makes them more fruitful to investigate.

So exactly what is it about the ACLU or Greenpeace that makes them a more logical target for investigating potential terrorist activity?

Suppose this was a Democratic administration, and the FBI was monitoring conservative groups that protested against it, like the NRA for example. Would you still be comfortable with that?
7.18.2005 6:00pm
Nathan Bauer (www):
JohnO writes:


Once you accept that a political convention is a potential site for a terrorist attack, it becomes incumbent on the counter-terrorism folks to get as much detail as they can about what the lay of the land will be in the area.


But every large gathering of people is a potential terrorist target. That's why terrorism is so difficult to defend against. The conventions already had large and elaborate security arrangements. Why would counter terror units have to be involved if there were no actual signs of terrorism? If we lower the bar for their involvement to the mere possibility of terrorism, then we are effectively eliminating any limits on their involvement. I would hope that you would agree with me in not wanting such a result.
7.18.2005 6:01pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"i.e., where will there be masses of people where terrorists could hide or detonate a bomb."

But why political protests? There are countless examples of events where there are "masses of people where terrorists could hide or detonate a bomb" that have nothing to do with political protests.

And if you're going to investigate political protest groups who get together in large crowds, why only liberally-oriented groups?

This is nothing more than a fig-leaf-sized justification for monitoring political groups that go against the Bush Administration.
7.18.2005 6:05pm
JohnO (mail):

Suppose this was a Democratic administration, and the FBI was monitoring conservative groups that protested against it, like the NRA for example. Would you still be comfortable with that?


I would have no problem with that. It just strikes me as silly that anyone can get their panties in a bunch because the FBI is monitoring what they say on a public website.
7.18.2005 6:12pm
Mike in Colorado (mail):
Public information, posted on a public website.....where's the problem?
7.18.2005 6:15pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"It just strikes me as silly that anyone can get their panties in a bunch because the FBI is monitoring what they say on a public website."

As I already pointed out, you're ignoring the historical context. It wasn't long ago that the FBI was monitoring folks like Martin Luther King, remember?

Second, it's a waste of time for counter-terror people to spend their time on the ACLU. Suppose we assign terrorism investigators to put many hours and federal funds into monitoring websites of lingerie models, will you get your panties into a bunch then?
7.18.2005 6:19pm
42USC1983 (mail):
Mahan wrote: "But why political protests?"

Because a political protest includes a bunch of like-minded and angry people. It's a powder keg.

"And if you're going to investigate political protest groups who get together in large crowds, why only liberally-oriented groups?"

The FBI and ATF have been monitoring radical right wing groups for many years - particularly, the militia movement in Western states. While the ACLU is about as wild as white bread, Greenpeace is pretty radical - indeed, dangerous.

"This is nothing more than a fig-leaf-sized justification for monitoring political groups that go against the Bush Administration.".

For crying out loud! They didn't pull anyone's FBI files. Or, as Clinton and his friends were prone to do - use them as bedside reading. Now, if it's established that FBI officials were misusing information about people, or trying to intimidate protestors, let me know, and I'll join the fight. But so long the FBI's only wrongdoing is monitoring a public website, I'll stick to other causes.
7.18.2005 6:26pm
42USC1983 (mail):
Second, it's a waste of time for counter-terror people to spend their time on the ACLU. Suppose we assign terrorism investigators to put many hours and federal funds into monitoring websites of lingerie models, will you get your panties into a bunch then?

Okay, then, who should the FBI be monitoring? I'm all ears to hear a more efficient allocation of federal funds.
7.18.2005 6:27pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Because a political protest includes a bunch of like-minded and angry people."

So in your mind, the ACLU, Greenpeace and terrorists are "like-minded"?
7.18.2005 6:35pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> Second, it's a waste of time for counter-terror people to spend their time on the ACLU.

Much of what govt does is a waste of time.

What makes this waste of time special?

If "The FBI has done bad things" implies that the FBI can't look at public websites, what can the FBI do?
7.18.2005 6:36pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Okay, then, who should the FBI be monitoring?"

How about groups engaged in actual terror-related activities?
7.18.2005 6:36pm
42USC1983 (mail):
"How about groups engaged in actual terror-related activities?"

Well, if the FBI knew that, we could all breath a little easier, wouldn't we. Indeed, if they knew what groups were "engaged in actual terror-related activities" they wouldn't be monitoring them: they'd make arrests. So, please be more specific. Where specifically should the FBI keep its eyes?

So in your mind, the ACLU, Greenpeace and terrorists are "like-minded"?

Nice try. What I wrote was "[A] political protest includes a bunch of like-minded and angry people. It's a powder keg."

A powder keg, as you well know, won't necessarily explode. Indeed, it's unikely that a well-maintained one will explode. But there's the potential. Hence, one should take due care in monitoring it.

Anyhow, I really wish you or others would make stronger arguments. I am not particularly pleased to be defending the FBI.
7.18.2005 6:46pm
DanB:
Nobody seems to have pointed this out yet, but many of the major environmental and animal-rights activist groups do have ties to terrorism -- not Al Qaeda (that we know of), but terrorism nevertheless. It is perfectly reasonable for the FBI to monitor groups like PETA or Greenpeace, because those groups have a history of providing assistance and cover to (for example) ELF terrorists.

It also seems reasonable for the FBI to monitor anti-war protests during wartime, to see if those protests cross the line from protected dissent into treason or open insurrection.
7.18.2005 6:53pm
Karl Stengel (mail) (www):
I think people are making the (incorrect) assumption that monitoring an organization = believing it's terrorist. If I were a terrorist, I'd (1) infiltrate the demonstration to try to make it violent, or at least vocal; (2) use that demonstration as a DIVERSION, and make my attack some distance from it.

So monitoring public websites - even of peaceful organizations - makes sense, especially when those websites announce demonstrations.
7.18.2005 6:55pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
Why, thankew, Larry88.

I do what I can. ;-p
7.18.2005 7:01pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
" "[A] political protest includes a bunch of like-minded and angry people. It's a powder keg."

But what's the connection to terrorism? Did you read the original article? It involves the use of counter-terror resources to deal with these issues.

I've certainly seen political protests get out of control, but is that the equivalent of terrorism in your mind?

"Where specifically should the FBI keep its eyes? "

Well I'll answer your question when you answer mine: Why is the ACLU an appropriate target? Are you suggesting that because it's difficult to pinpoint terrorism, the FBI should monitor everyone, no matter how unlikely they are to be involved in terrorism?

You seem to be saying, "Well it sure is hard to find the terrorists, so what the heck we may as well monitor the ACLU." How is this at all logical?

But in any case, there are loads of groups -- mostly located overseas -- who readily and openly advocate terrorism. You know, like Al Qaeda?

Need I point out that we still haven't caught OBL yet? Do you think we have a good chance of getting leads to him on the ACLU website?
7.18.2005 7:04pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Much of what govt does is a waste of time. What makes this waste of time special? "

Are you saying you're fine with the notion of government waste?

As far as what makes this one "special", it's because I not so naive to think the government's motivations are innocent. Some of us have some sense of history; we remember when the FBI was used as a tool to counter and attack political dissent.

You all seem to have no knowledge of this history whatsoever...
7.18.2005 7:07pm
FlavaFlay:
Mahan Atma, perhaps you missed DanB's post, but regardless, I'm going to add my two cents.

You seem to be arguing that the FBI should be faulted for engaging in activities that are free for an individual to engage in.

Examples of prior abuse are are as persuasive as examples of misdeeds of previous presidents. Yes, the actions [insert name of your least favorite president here] do show what GWB might be capable of and be able to get away with. However, that is not a reason to forbid activities that may lead to inappropriate action, but do not themselves constitute inappropriate action.
7.18.2005 7:25pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"You seem to be arguing that the FBI should be faulted for engaging in activities that are free for an individual to engage in."

The FBI is not a "free individual". The last time I checked, the power of the federal government is supposed to be limited in ways that free individuals aren't limited.

But I'll ask you, since nobody else seems to want to address this question:

Even assuming there's no law against it, exactly what is the justification for having the FBI spend limited resources on monitoring the ACLU?

Answer: There is none. Ergo, you have to be a total idiot — or extremely disingenuous — to claim this isn't driven by anti-democratic, politically-motivated ends.
7.18.2005 7:42pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
To be clear, no one was "monitoring" the ACLU. The ACLU is working on behalf of the group that WAS monitored... it was some webpage called gopnotwanted.com according to the FBI document.

Just figured I'd point that out since so many people were asking "Why waste time spying on the ACLU" and the like...
7.18.2005 7:42pm
Splunge (mail):
Some of us have some sense of history; we remember when the FBI was used as a tool to counter and attack political dissent.

Yeah? When would that be?
7.18.2005 7:46pm
Splunge (mail):
...exactly what is the justification for having the FBI spend limited resources on monitoring the ACLU?

How about: knowing the likely number of protesters so you know the number of agents to assign to the event to keep order? Just off the top of my head, mind you.
7.18.2005 7:48pm
Law Devil:
It seems to me (although I may be a complete idiot) that there would be some value in the FBI, in counter terrorism capacity monitoring where people will be protesting since a large gathering like that would make an attractive terrorist target, and that letting authorities on the ground know where the protest will be would the responsible thing to do knowing that.
7.18.2005 7:51pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Yeah? When would that be?"

Are you serious?
7.18.2005 7:52pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"How about: knowing the likely number of protesters so you know the number of agents to assign to the event to keep order?"

Since when do FBI agents have the job of "keeping order" at public protests?

And what in the world does this have to do with terrorism?
7.18.2005 7:54pm
Splunge (mail):
Are you serious?

Great answer! I can see the facts are at your fingertips, so clearly you're going to win the argument. I withdraw.

[runs off laughing]
7.18.2005 7:55pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"It seems to me (although I may be a complete idiot) that there would be some value in the FBI, in counter terrorism capacity monitoring where people will be protesting since a large gathering like that would make an attractive terrorist target, and that letting authorities on the ground know where the protest will be would the responsible thing to do knowing that."

First of all, anytime there's a large protest the local police already know where it will be.

Second, there's nothing that makes a political protest more "attractive" to terrorists than any other gathering of people, e.g. a sports event, a public concert, etc.

I went to the Live 8 concern in town on July 4, there were hundreds of thousands of people there. Were FBI agents monitoring the Live 8 organizers too?
7.18.2005 7:57pm
FlavaFlay:
As Daniel Chapman says, it the ACLU is only speaking on behalf of those monitored. As far as I know, they aren't the ones being monitored. I am not in a position to know why the FBI chose to monitor those groups. Nor am I in a position to know the efficacy of using department funds to monitor those groups. I imagine that the FBI has determined such use of funds and time is worth it. Apparently, some do not. As the FBI is in a much more well-informed position, I would personally defer to them, rather than to those who do not.

You are correct in pointing out that the government is limited in ways individuals are not. That was my mistake. I should have said that you seem to be arguing that the FBI may not engage in activities that the government is free to engage in.

Although internet and other technologies complicate many legal issues involving search and seizure, I think publicly available and publicly distributed information is analogous to a person who happens to be in the presence of a police officer in a public space. The police officer is not violating his/her rights by observing this person, whether this person is engaging in illegal activity or not.
7.18.2005 8:02pm
Scaremonger (mail):
http://www.notbored.org/army.html Go here and scan the gigantic list and read the army-statement.

I think everyone could agree that it is a bit strange if those logs are true just the amount and diversity of the surveillence done. I cannot imagine any legitimate statistics alluding to even half of those visits, something was definitely up.

Personally I'm a bit sad that there isn't more of this type of watchful eye on all things political or social-building. Then again the courts have ruled that COINTELPRO was illegal/unethical.
7.18.2005 8:08pm
Law Devil:
I would not go as far to say that anytime there is a large protest the local police will already know where it will be, but even if so what is the harm in redundancy of information? I did not say that political gatherings were more attractive but a gathering near the President clearly would be more attractive(P.S. loved the counter to a point I didn't make though). I would hope the FBI counter terrorism agents would be monitoring any large gathering of people that will draw large media coverage, since it would appear (but once again I may be a complete idiot for disagreeing with you) that that would be a recipe for a good terrorist target since it would be the most efficient means of mass exposure.
7.18.2005 8:08pm
Splunge (mail):
"How about: knowing the likely number of protesters so you know the number of agents to assign to the event to keep order?"

Since when do FBI agents have the job of "keeping order" at public protests?

And what in the world does this have to do with terrorism?


Oops, my bad. I'll try again:

How about: knowing the likely number of protesters so you know the number of agents to assign to the event to keep watch?

You OK with the FBI keeping watch over national political events, at the invitation of the event's organizer? Or does that make them the NKVD already?
7.18.2005 8:10pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"How about: knowing the likely number of protesters so you know the number of agents to assign to the event to keep watch?"

Tell me, how exactly would monitoring the ACLU allow the FBI to figure out how many protestors would be at a particular protest? The ACLU doesn't even organize protests!

Have you taken the 5-10 minutes it requires to actually look at the ACLU website???
7.18.2005 8:34pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Great answer! I can see the facts are at your fingertips, so clearly you're going to win the argument. I withdraw. [runs off laughing]"

Have you never heard of COINTELPRO? There were Congressional hearings, do I have to read them to you?

For example, the FBI monitored Martin Luther King and his Southern Leadership Conference. What was the justification for this, do you think?
7.18.2005 8:39pm
Hattio (mail):
42usc1983,
You state that;
The FBI and ATF have been monitoring radical right wing groups for many years - particularly, the militia movement in Western states. While the ACLU is about as wild as white bread, Greenpeace is pretty radical - indeed, dangerous.

Wasn't the milita movement all about...well, being a militia. Ie., a paramilitary organization? I would think that's pretty different from being a group that organizes civil disobedience like Greenpeace. You state that Greenpeace is pretty radical, and I agree with you when we are talking about their politics/philosophy. The question is are they very radical in their implementation. Their protests largely put themselves in danger, not others. And the protests are basically designed to disrupt. They're just the maritime equivalent to people chaining themselves together.
On the other hand, various militia groups gave military training. I would suggest that this is vastly different from teaching somebody how to disrupt a nuclear test at sea.
7.18.2005 8:44pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
>Are you saying you're fine with the notion of government waste?

Not at all. I'm asking why this govt waste is special.

> As far as what makes this one "special", it's because I not so naive to think the government's motivations are innocent.

That's not an argument about waste. While being disenguous isn't proof of fallacy, it does suggest a weak argument.

> Some of us have some sense of history; we remember when the FBI was used as a tool to counter and attack political dissent.

Oh yeah, like that had an effect. NOT.

> You all seem to have no knowledge of this history whatsoever...

I note that we're still waiting for why it's wrong for the FBI to observe public activities, websites, etc.

Note - "they've engaged in bad private activities in the past" isn't actually a reason.
7.18.2005 8:46pm
GMUSL 1L (mail):
Yes Mahan, because the FBI should be sending agents into foreign countries to catch Osama.

Oh wait, what's that? The FBI is solely for domestic law enforcement? Oh, sorry. I must have been distracted by the sound of your straw man falling over.
7.18.2005 8:49pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"That's not an argument about waste. While being disenguous isn't proof of fallacy, it does suggest a weak argument."

You don't follow. I bring up the argument about waste because it proves my point. The government apparently thinks it's worth spending resources on monitoring the ACLU. Why? Because they present a threat of terrorism? No, that's ludicrous on the face of it. So what's the alternative explanation? If you don't think the motivations are anti-democratic, then you tell me what the explanation is.

"Oh yeah, like that had an effect. NOT."

Hitler failed too, in the end. But does that make it OK?

From the Church Report:

"(a) Although the claimed purposes of these action programs were to protect the national security and to prevent violence, many of the victims were concededly nonviolent, were not controlled by a foreign power, and posed no threat to the national security.

(b) The acts taken interfered with the First Amendment rights of citizens. They were explicitly intended to deter citizens from joining groups, "neutralize" those who were already members, and prevent or inhibit the expression of ideas.

(c) The tactics used against Americans often risked and sometimes caused serious emotional, economic, or physical damage. Actions were taken which were designed to break up marriages, terminate funding or employment, and encourage gang warfare between violent rival groups. Due process of law forbids the use of such covert tactics, whether the victims are innocent law-abiding citizens or members of groups suspected of involvement in violence.

(d) The sustained use of such tactics by the FBI in an attempt to destroy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., violated the law and fundamental human decency."

READ THE WHOLE THING

"I note that we're still waiting for why it's wrong for the FBI to observe public activities, websites, etc."

I'm still waiting for why it's justified.
7.18.2005 9:00pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Yes Mahan, because the FBI should be sending agents into foreign countries to catch Osama. Oh wait, what's that? The FBI is solely for domestic law enforcement? Oh, sorry. I must have been distracted by the sound of your straw man falling over."

Dollars are fungible.

My argument is that the money we're spending on monitoring the ACLU would be much better spend on hunting down Al Qaeda. Do you dispute this?
7.18.2005 9:01pm
GMUSL 1L (mail):
Mahan, all else being equal, a given dollar would be better spent hunting down Osama.

That being said, I don't think it's costly to look at a webpage, and I think the marginal utility of that $500 or so would not only be negligible in finding Osama, but probably lost due to friction on the way to Afghanistan/Eastern Pakistan. All else is not equal.
7.18.2005 9:35pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"That being said, I don't think it's costly to look at a webpage, and I think the marginal utility of that $500 or so would not only be negligible in finding Osama, but probably lost due to friction on the way to Afghanistan/Eastern Pakistan. All else is not equal"

And what if it costs a lot more than $500?

Can you tell me what the justification is for monitoring the ACLU?
7.18.2005 9:37pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
I think everyone has missed a fundamental point here. The reason the FBI was concerned about protests at the two major political conventions was not just that large numbers of people would gather there, but because of the many high government officials who we all knew would attend -- including numerous senators, governors, mayors and representatives at both conventions as well as the President, Vice President, and several cabinet secretaries at the GOP convention.

Terrorists surely are more eager to strike a target like this than, say, a sporting event, so it made perfect sense for the FBI to devote extra resources to the conventions.

And though I'm a Democrat and an ACLU member, I think it was reasonable for the Bureau to keep tabs on every group who would be there to protest. Keeping an eye on public websites is a perfectly sensible way to do this and shouldn't disturb anyone. The ACLU only puts on its website material that it wants people to see and to identify with the organization, so it shouldn't care who looks at the site.

The FBI needs to know who doesn't merit much scrutiny on-site as well as who does, so time spent beforehand monitoring public info from the ACLU and other peaceful groups could help make the distribution of agents on the ground more efficient. After all, before you can concentrate resources on the higher-risk groups you need to be able to tell which groups they are.

As long as the FBI scrutinized protestors at both of the conventions with equal diligence and didn't break any laws, I just don't see the problem.
7.18.2005 9:38pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"The FBI needs to know who doesn't merit much scrutiny on-site as well as who does, so time spent beforehand monitoring public info from the ACLU and other peaceful groups could help make the distribution of agents on the ground more efficient. After all, before you can concentrate resources on the higher-risk groups you need to be able to tell which groups they are."

Ah, so when the FBI eventually determines that the ACLU poses no threat of terrorist attacks, sure they'll stop monitoring them.... I wonder how long that'll take.
7.18.2005 9:45pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
This thread is going to scare them into disabling comments again...

I repeat: NO ONE was "monitoring" the ACLU. Please read before ranting. Thanks.
7.18.2005 10:00pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
"you're ignoring the historical context."

You're ignoring the historical context. It wasn't long ago that the FBI failed to follow up on Saudi's taking flying lessons.

The point here is that we are not the FBI and we do not know what they know or have their experience doing what they do. If they think that reading web sites is something they ought to do, then they ought to do it, whether the ACLU and Greenpeace like it or not.

Furthermore, their protestations aside, I have no idea if the ACLU (or Greenpeace) is employing, harboring or fronting for terrorists. If the FBI has information that they are, they should follow up on it. If the FBI suspects that they are organizing protests that terrorists might use as either a shield or a diversion, they should gather all the public information about the protests that they can.

Personally, I am no longer interested in hearing these groups complaing about their civil rights. It is only a fund raising tactic and the media should not abet it.
7.18.2005 10:22pm
Reader:
As I read the linked email, the web sites being read (were they reallying being "monitored" (i.e. repeatedly visited?) were picked up as part of a general "review" of the Internet looking for things to be concerned about. They found three web sites advocating protests, one of which was run by a group with a record of "illegal and disruptive" demonstrations. They then quoted the text of the web sites they found relevant and passed the information on to people responsible for security awareness and Special Event Planning.

So the counter suggestion is that the FBI should not do a sweep of the Internet looking for suggestions of a planned illegal activity? Or that having done such a check they should not report what they found (in this case, roughly "we found three web sites advocating protests, one of which is from a group that has a history of illegal protests. Here's what we found so you can judge for yourself.")
7.19.2005 12:53am
DanB:
"The question is are they [Greenpeace] very radical in their implementation"

No, but they are loosely affiliated with terrorist groups such as the Earth Libertation Front. Metaphorically speaking, Greenpeace isn't Al Qaeda; it is more like a Wahabbist mosque that Al Qaeda members sometimes frequent. Simply put, if you monitor the activities of groups like Greenpeace an PETA, you are guaranteed to run across plenty of people who think that violence in the service of cute fuzzy animals and/or tall green trees is justified. I.e., terrorists and terrorist supporters.

Anyway, as earlier posters observed, the FBI doesn't have to know that terrorist activity is afoot before they can monitor a website. That would mean requiring that the FBI somehow omnisciently know, or passively discover, that an organization harbors terrorists before agents can so much as pick up a newspaper and read about it.
7.19.2005 2:23am
i wonder (mail):
Considering anyone with out serious local , state, or national ties politically or financially to the RNP would be corralled so far from broadcast scrutiny ............. What was the point ???
7.19.2005 2:52am
Randolph Carter (mail):
Although I disagree with some of what Mahan said, I think he has hit on something very important without saying it explicitly: The burden of proof should always be on those who seek to justify expanded government power. I would hate to live in a world where law enforcement could do as they please until they received a letter explaining to them why they should refrain from certain actions. Sort of the point of the Bill of Rights, right?
7.19.2005 11:03am
Anon7:
"I think everyone has missed a fundamental point here. The reason the FBI was concerned about protests at the two major political conventions was not just that large numbers of people would gather there, but because of the many high government officials who we all knew would attend — including numerous senators, governors, mayors and representatives at both conventions as well as the President, Vice President, and several cabinet secretaries at the GOP convention."

OK, but do we have any sign whatsoever that the FBI monitored non-violent conservative protest groups like Protest Warrior in the lead up to the Democratic convention?

If not, that would be pretty strong proof that the monitoring of leftist groups is politically motivated.
7.19.2005 11:36am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> You don't follow. I bring up the argument about waste because it proves my point.

No, you don't follow. You abandoned your waste argument when pressed, revealing it to be disengenuous.

However, we can skip the rest of this. Why? See below.

> If you don't think the motivations are anti-democratic, then you tell me what the explanation is.

Okay - one last point. The "motivations" are that govt agencies collect things, especially about groups that sue them. I'm perfectly willing to discuss whether the FBI is, on the whole, a good idea, but if you're not, you don't get to beef about unavoidable consequences of its existence.

> Hitler failed too, in the end. But does that make it OK?

I invoke Godwin's law. You lose but thanks for playing.
7.19.2005 11:56am
Scipio (mail) (www):
I still am unclear what legal or moral impedimenta there are to the FBI reading public websites for information, other than the obvious fact that the federal government has no general police power. Given that we now have a federal police force in the FBI, how can it be illegal or even wrongful for them to gather information from public sources?

I doubt the FBI considers Greenpeace, etc. terrorist orgs. However, any public protest is, as far as terrorists are concerned, fair game. It seems silly to attribute bad motives to facially benign acts of the FBI related to security without further knowledge.

Unles of course the FBI should be restricted from using public information to evaluate security threats.
7.19.2005 12:01pm
DanB:
"OK, but do we have any sign whatsoever that the FBI monitored non-violent conservative protest groups like Protest Warrior in the lead up to the Democratic convention? If not, that would be pretty strong proof that the monitoring of leftist groups is politically motivated"

First of all, Protest Warrior is about one ten-thousandth the size of Greenpeace or PETA.

Secondly, Protest Warrior does't associate with terrorist organizations of any kind. Greenpeace does associate with terrorist organizations like the ELF.

Finally, this entire issue is silly. Every single one of the FBI agents would be perfectly free to read those websites as private citizens. Suppose they did. Would they then be legally obligated to forget what they, as private citizens, knew, upon coming to work? That seems more than a little absurd.
7.19.2005 1:18pm
eddie (mail):
It's always apples and oranges.

So should various conservative think tanks and christian advocacy organizations be monitored, just on the outside chance than more heinous characters might be hiding out in the dark corners of the website.

Of course, public domain is public domain. The real question here is creating a file, organizing the materials, looking for ways to justify all of the foregoing and acting upon that information.

If I choose to protest policy, have I then submitted to further scrutiny?

DanB, you are correct that as private citizens we can do all sorts of things. And I don't expect an FBI agent to be obligated to "forget" his private observations. But should there be a file folder entitled "DanB" somewhere in the bowels of the FBI simply because you commented on this post? Where does it stop?

By the way, explain to me how the ACLU consorts with terrorists? And also tell me how Sadaam and the War on Worldwide Terror are connected to ELF?

Should there be monitoring of each political party's web sites? And if not, why do you draw the line there?

Is "political" intelligence necessary to provide protection from "terrorists"?
7.19.2005 5:11pm
Walter:
IIRC, various conservative think tanks and christian advocacy organizations were monitored during the previous administration.

But, as to your question about the ELF and how they relate to "Sadaam and the War on Worldwide Terror", the answers is: they don't. The ELF [and ALF] are independent domestic [homegrown] terrorist groups with a focus on the Earth or Animals. Before 9/11 refocused public preception to terrorism=Middle East touble, there was a growing recognition that what the ELF was doing the Western USA was terrorism.

I expect that the ACLUs link comes in because they defended people arrested (or suspected) for ELF terrorism activities.
7.19.2005 6:12pm
DanB:
But should there be a file folder entitled "DanB" somewhere in the bowels of the FBI simply because you commented on this post? Where does it stop?

I made the post in a public forum. By doing so I accepted that anybody, whether I trust them or not, could make a permanent note that I'd said what I said.

I don't see any reason to worry that the FBI might keep a copy of this post and later search on it. It will already be cached by countless search engines, which means that millions of people I trust less than the FBI will be able to look it up, years from now, and use it against me.

If the FBI were monitoring private correspondence or private conversations. But anything said on a publically-accessable internet isn't being said privately; it is being shouted from the rooftops to hundreds of millions of people. I see no reason to lose even one second's sleep over the notion that the FBI might take notes on that.
7.19.2005 6:51pm
DanB:
Sorry, posted too soon.

By the way, explain to me how the ACLU consorts with terrorists? And also tell me how Sadaam and the War on Worldwide Terror are connected to ELF?

I haven't seen any evidence yet that the ACLU is itself being monitored. As for the connection between the War on Worldwide Terror and the ELF -- the ELF is a terrorist organization, and it operates within the world, so there you go.
7.19.2005 6:55pm