FBI Conducts Threat Assessment on Antiwar.Com Journalists for Linking to Publicly Available Document

Antiwar.com has a troubling story detailing how what appears to be either an FBI counterintelligence investigation of suspected Israeli spies or an attempt to track down everyone who had posted terrorist watch lists online led to the FBI to investigate the site and Justin Raimondo and Eric Garris.

The story is troubling for several reasons:

  1. The report on Antiwar.com reveals the FBI’s Electronic Communications Unit (the same one involved in using exigent letters to get community of interest phone numbers) was already monitoring Antiwar.com when the FBI did a threat analysis of them in 2004.
  2. Based on the fact that they had posted two watch lists, that a number of people under investigation read the site, and other redacted reasons, the FBI recommended a preliminary investigation into whether (basically) they were spying.
  3. The report cited electronic communications collected under FISA. While that may be no more than 4 FISA references in another case out of the Newark Office (which appears to be a prior investigation tied to the Israelis), that’s not clear that that’s the only FISA-collected information here.
  4. Whether or not the FBI already had used FISA on Antiwar.com, the low bar for PATRIOT powers (connection to a counterterrorist or counterintelligence investigation; the Israeli investigation would qualify) means the government could have used PATRIOT powers to investigate them.

So here’s my analysis.

Someone emailed Antiwar.com this set of FOIAed FBI documents. The documents appear to show that the FBI did some research on Antiwar.com in 2004 and recommended a Preliminary Investigation of them to see if they were spies. Their research appears to include 4 pieces of electronic communication collected under FISA, though it appears those were collected in another case.

The Contents of the FBI File

What follows assumes that the documents are authentic (Antiwar.com did not FOIA this themselves and they just received it out of the blue). It’s possible they’re an elaborate forgery, but they certainly appear to be valid FBI documents.

Roughly speaking, here’s what’s included in the document packet as a whole.

  • 1-2: The faxed copy of a 302 (interview report) dated September 16, 2002 related to the Israelis
  • 3-4: A transfer document
  • 5-26: A document, dated October 4, 2002, documented the return and translation of evidence taken from the Israelis as well as xeroxes of the evidence
  • 27-29: An interview report dated October 2, 2002, first requested September 10, 2002
  • 30-32: An October 29, 2002 report on photos confiscated from an Israeli when he was detained on October 30, 2001
  • 33-34: An April 23, 2003 report on an earlier arrest of four Israelis on August 14, 2001
  • 35: Mostly blank cover sheet
  • 36-37: An FBI handwriting analysis of documents taken from the Israelis
  • 38-51: A report, dated July 10, 2003, summarizing and closing the case on the Israelis
  • 52-58: A report, dated July 10, 2003, summarizing the results of the case on the Israelis
  • 59-61: Paperwork from February and April 2004 reopening and transferring the investigation of the Israelis
  • 62-71: A 10-page report, dated April 30, 2004, on Raimondo, Garris, and Antiwar.com
  • 72-84: Web printouts of antiwar.com related information
  • 85-89: Paperwork related to the closure of the investigation into the 5 Israelis and the destruction of evidence collected from them
  • 90-94: FOIA notations

Only the two bolded sections pertain to Antiwar.com. The rest (plus–it appears from the title of the Scribd file, http://www.scribd.com/doc/62394765/1138796-001-303A-NK-105536-Section-6-944900, which appears to come from the Newark case number–at least five other sections) describes the FBI’s investigation of the five Israelis alleged to have filmed the destruction of the World Trade Center (read pages 38-51 for the most complete description of the FBI investigation). The short version of the conclusion in that investigation is that the Israelis did have ties to the Israeli government, but did not appear to have foreknowledge of the attack.

The Antiwar.com Threat Assessment appears to have been forwarded to the counterterrorism people working on the Israeli case; it’s likely the FOIA asked for everything relating to the Israeli investigation.

The Genesis of the Antiwar.com Threat Assessment

Which brings us to the report on Antiwar.com itself.

It appears that, in March 2004, the FBI may have done a search of everyone who had a 9/11 “watch list” available online.

An electronic communication from the Counterterrorism, NTCS/TWWU to all field offices, dated 03/24/2004, advised that the post-9/11 “watch list,” “Project Lookout,” was posted on the Internet and may contain the names of individuals of active investigative interest. Different versions of these lists may be found on the Internet. This assessment was conducted on the findings discovered on www.antiwar.com.

The file doesn’t actually say whether that’s why the FBI started investigating Antiwar.com. Rather, it says,

While conducting research on the Internet, an untitled spreadsheet , dated 10/03/2001, was discovered on the website antiwar.com.

Given the recently reopened investigation into the Israelis at that time, the FBI may have found it in research on them and used the watch list directive to conduct further investigation. Or it may have just been the watch list directive.

The FBI’s Research into Antiwar.com

As Raimondo notes, he posted links to that document–sourced clearly to Cryptome–in this post on the Israelis.

Ostensibly to figure out how and why he was posting a terrorist watch list, the FBI:

  • Did searches on its Universal Index on both Garris and Raimondo (there was significant material on one of them)
  • Did a scan of the Electronic Case File, apparently finding:
    • One completely redacted file
    • A counterintelligence report forwarded from the Counterintelligence office to the Office
    • Several documents (from a different FBI office) that appear to be based on posts of Raimondo (these have serial numbers reading “315M/N-SL-188252), though the second is a Letterhead Memo
    • A document citing Antiwar.com as a source of information on US military aid to Israel
    • A report on a peaceful protest in the UK including a reference to an article handed out at the protest citing antiwar.com
    • A report on a Neo-Nazi conference at which a member recommended reading Antiwar.com for information on the Middle East conflict
    • The contents of a seized hard drive showing its owner visited Antiwar.com between July 2002 and June 2003.
  • Recorded six more completely redacted entries
  • Looked up details on DMV, Dun and Bradstreet, Lexis Nexis, business, and phone searches
  • Looked up several other database searches the description of which are redacted
  • Cited four FISA-derived references from a case file in Newark, but with no description of contents
  • Referred to a bunch of other articles on Antiwar.com, both access via Lexis Nexis and via web searches.

The FBI’s Verdict: Further Investigation

All of which the FBI used to come to the following conclusion:

The rights of individuals to post information and to express personal views on the Internet should be honored and protected; however, some material that is circulated on the Internet can compromise current active FBI investigations. The discovery of two detailed Excel spreadsheets posted on www.antiwar.com may not be significant by itself since distribution of the information on such lists are wide spread. Many agencies outside of law enforcement have been utilizing this information to screen their employees. Still it is unclear whether www.antiwar.com may only be posting research material compiled from multiple sources or if there is material posted that is singular in nature and not suitable for public released. There are several unanswered questions regarding antiwar.com. It describes itself as a non-profit group that survives on generous donations from its readers. Who are these contributors and what are the funds used for? [two lines redacted] on www.antiwar.com. If this is so, then what is his true name? Two facts have been established by this assessment. Many individuals worldwide do view this website including individuals who are currently under investigation and [one line redacted].

With the recommendations (for DC’s corrupt ECAU office):

It is recommended that ECAU further monitor the postings on the website www.antiwar.com.

And in San Francisco:

It is recommended that a [Preliminary Investigation] be opened to determine if [redacted] are engaging in, or have engaged in, activities which constitute a threat to National Security on behalf of a foreign power.

Now, it’s bad enough the FBI doesn’t consider Antiwar.com a journalistic site at all. It’s also pretty appalling that they used pretty unnecessary questions to justify further investigation.

And remember, the bar for the FBI to use First Amendment “protected” reasons to investigate someone have been lowered since 2004.

Apparently, for the FBI, advocating for peace and making a publicly available PDF available constitutes sufficient threat to conduct a counterintelligence investigation.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

26 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Given this story, it wouldn’t be a surprise to me that anyone who had visited Wikileaks became the subject of the same type of government investigation.

    Today’s usage of the Internet is just made for this kind of federal “the 4th is dead” snooping.

    Or as Mikey Hayden says:

    “…Q: Can the NSA stay on top of those challenges? I mean, bandwidth and the different kinds of channels available for moving information seem to grow exponentially every time you blink.

    A: It is hard, but look on the bright side. Never in human history has so much of what it NSA cares about been pushed out there into the electro-magnetic spectrum. Think where we were 50 years ago. Communications were limited. Now, just about everything is out there in ones and zeroes. So, although the challenge is really hard, the payoff is really great if you master the technology.

    Q: But the enemy always has a vote, and can change their methods. For example, here you have killed two major figures by tracking people to their location, bin Laden’s courier and Zarqawi’s spiritual advisor. And surely the people who the U.S. is hunting will note that and adjust. The same must apply to spying on communications.

    A: That’s why signals intelligence is so fragile. It takes an awful lot to hide something from imagery intelligence when you’re doing something. But to hide it from signals intelligence, you just have to hang up the phone. And that’s why folks at the NSA get so excited when people in your profession write about what they are or aren’t doing.”

  2. klynn says:

    So, independent investigative journalists are a threat to the public safety or a threat towards revealing truths no wants the citizenry to know?

  3. MadDog says:

    @klynn: The short answer is yes.

    And not just independent nor investigative journalists, but journalism as a whole.

    In fact, as I was reading EW’s post, I thought that the NYT, The Guardian, and all of the other media outlets who published things like the Wikileaks material would easily fit into the government’s definition of suspicious activities worth investigating.

    And along came the further thought that the government has indeed just done that (see Risen, James or Gorman, Siobhan as just 2 examples).

  4. lysias says:

    I can see why somebody investigating those 5 Israelis might have become interested in Raimondo.

    Raimondo’s book The Terror Enigma is, I think, the best book I’ve read detailing the Israeli connection with 9/11. In 2004, it would have been of much more interest to investigators.

    Not that that wou7ld have been much of a reason to investigate Raimondo himself, as everything in the book is sourced to mainstream media.

    What’s really scary is the investigators’ conclusion, that antiwar.com is a threat to national security on behalf of a foreign power:

    I saved the best for last: the “action” recommendations contained in the memo. While directing the Washington FBI’s Electronic Communication Analysis Unit (ECAU) to “further monitor the postings of website http://www.antiwar.com,” the San Francisco office – where both Eric and I lived at the time – is tasked with the following:

    “It is recommended that a PI be opened to determine if [redacted] are engaging in, or have engaged in, activities which constitute a threat to National Security on behalf of a foreign power.”

  5. Tritium says:

    @lysias:

    You said: What’s really scary is the investigators’ conclusion, that antiwar.com is a threat to national security on behalf of a foreign power:

    But it’s clear from the wording that a person, whose name has been redacted, are engaging or have engaged in, activities which constitute a threat to national security on behalf of a foreign power.

  6. Justin Raimondo says:

    I can hardly wait to take a plane trip:

    “Hi, I’m a threat to US National Security AND an agent of a foreign power. Do you mind if I sit next to you?”

    The “foreign power” is in Washington, DC.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @lysias: To be fair, they say they’re opening up a preliminary investigation to find out if they are. Slightly different, though w/the investigative bar on counterintelligence investigations, troubling nevetheless.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @Justin Raimondo: Hey, it’d be an interesting conversation starter.

    I talked to Eric today and he said you guys got stopped coming back from Malaysia in 2005? (my notes are downstairs).

    I’m gonna return to that–it’s one of the more interesting details, because it appears to say they kept investigating you guys after the time they re-closed the Israeli investigation.

    There’s a teeny, tinfoil part of me that wonders whether they didn’t reopen the Israeli investigation to give predicate to use PATRIOT on you guys. But that’s pretty tinfoil.

  9. klynn says:

    @MadDog:

    I know the answer to both questions is “yes” the problem with “yes” is that it means the FBI is not about finding criminals but operates to hide truth and punish truth sought out under the guise of counterintel.

  10. P J Evans says:

    I’d be more surprised at the FBI if I didn’t remember all the stories about them investigating Quakers for their antiwar activities. (The one group I can think of that the government should expect to always be antiwar.)

  11. jo6pac says:

    Justin as much as I love your site I just can’t be seen there anymore. I’m sure you understand because it’s that I believe in the hopey changey thing. It’s for the best that I stop thinking for myself;)

    PJ I’m sure they have because we all know how crazy the Quakers are!

  12. Montoya says:

    “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State.” –Dr. Joseph M. Goebbels.

  13. thomas says:

    Careful not to link to AIPAC…… which certainly… “or have engaged in, activities which constitute a threat to National Security on behalf of a foreign power.”…….

  14. Generalissimo X says:

    well our fascist gov’t shows it’s true colors but i’m not surprised. the u.s. gov’t is nothing but a gang of criminal thugs..of course they troll antiwar.com and other sites as these sites are a threat to their wickedness and evil designs. they fear the readers of the site as they know we’re not cowed and stupid. to the fbi agent reading my post right now: F you, you fascist pig. the people of this country need to read the declaration of independence and rise up like 1776 and stop letting a bunch immoral criminal thugs oppress us and shred our civil liberties and the constitution. the current gov’t and political party system has no interest in the rule of law or representing the people. now come and get me!

  15. Mary says:

    So, with the right FOIA requests and legitimate (not the “lose discovery, hide the exculpatory evidence, lie to the judge” tactics that appear to be DOJ 101 tactics these days) responses, what other dissent blogs get the same or similar responses? Sounds like a, “have computer capacity and excess resources shifted over from other need areas, will create files and investigations” mentality.

    BTW – I’ve been waiting for someone from the Administration, while commenting on Ghaddafi and Bashar Assad to say, “Well, while the civilian casualties are no doubt regreted, what are those guys supposed to do when the insurgents are not wearing uniforms and are hanging out amongst the civilian population? I mean, it’s not like we could fault them for taking our Fallujah Doctrine to heart.”

    Or not.

  16. Mary says:

    @P J Evans: I think about that everytime I get an email from the Friends. But wasn’t a lot of the surveillance on them even a step worse than FBI? Weren’t they the domestic target of DOD – the military turned on a domestic religious group? Or are my wires crossed?

  17. Mike says:

    If you think freedumb is under attack now, wait till they retaliate against this idiocracy, again. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.

  18. Jamie says:

    The criminals are the government and there is so much proff on the internet that Israel Americas friends in crime are involved in everthing from involvment in 9/11 to spying on their best friends America.The government are a bunch of retard weirdos that run around at night in the Bohimian grove.I could care less if they break the law and look at my views on the internet because they are the scum bag criminals breaking the law doing so well I do nothing against the law.One day they will try to get ride of the entire internet.They now we can learn so much truth they don’t want us to know.If your reading my post your a loser and should stop crimes like the ones the American government and their friends commot every day.TV has shows that show searial killers and real TV to take citizens mind off the real big crimes going on in the world.I watch TV but understand what it is a way to destract the populations.

  19. Jamie says:

    How can you live in the world the world you are leaving to the children and not open your eyes and see whats really going on.Trust me the faces that you see in the government and MSM are the biggest threat and the biggest liers.The MSM says what they are told.Many so called important people from Israel have stated that they control America and the government knows it.It really showed when Bibi was making Obama look like a lower form of life well speaking to the American congress with so much clapping it probably broak the recored with more applases than any American president ever.Seems them Israelies were right they do run America.Look at how many Isralies are in the most powerfull jobs in government.There loyalty is to Israel just like congress.Sad but true.

  20. Jamie says:

    How can you live in the world the world you are leaving to the children and not open your eyes and see whats really going on.Trust me the faces that you see in the government and MSM are the biggest threat and the biggest liers.The MSM says what they are told.Many so called important people from Israel have stated that they control America and the government knows it.It really showed when Bibi was making Obama look like a lower form of life well speaking to the American congress with so much clapping it probably broak the recored with more applases than any American president ever.Seems them Israelies were right they do run America.Look at how many Isralies are in the most powerfull jobs in government.

  21. Jamie says:

    There loyalty is to Israel.America is being destroyed and at a fast pace in the last b10 years.The citizens most anyway just watch or don’t even pay attention.

  22. Ruth E. Kastner says:

    “Who are these contributors and what are these funds used for?” The contributors are ordinary Americans like me who want to get information not pre-screened and propagandized by the corporate press. The funds are used to go get the information and to maintain the website, which does not magically maintain itself. Duh. This is outrageous, using my tax money to harrass a journalistic website just because it presents information that makes some powerful people uncomfortable. As someone said, the truth is obviously the enemy of the State here.

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