The Six FBI Reports Treating Merton Center Anti-War Activism as Terrorism

Glenn Fine–DOJ’s Inspector General–is usually one of the most credible agents of oversight in the federal government. But his last report–examining whether the FBI investigated the First Amendment activities of lefty groups as terrorism–is a masterpiece of obfuscation. It manages to look at three different investigative efforts of the Thomas Merton Center’s anti-war activism, all treated as terrorism, and declare them unconnected and therefore not evidence that during the Bush Administration anti-war activism was investigated as terrorism.

The coverage of the report has largely focused on Robert Mueller’s reportedly unintentional lies to Congress explaining why an anti-war event sponsored by Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center was investigated in the guise of international terrorism. For good examples, see Charlie Savage and Jeff Stein’s versions of the story.

The short version of Meuller’s misinformation to Congress the report offers is that 1) a rookie FBI officer was sent out as make-work to improperly surveil a peace protest, 2) after that became clear through FOIA, his boss and a lawyer in the office and the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division tried to retroactively invent reasons for the surveillance, 3) largely through the bureaucratic game of telephone that resulted, Robert Mueller (and in more significant ways, a response to a Patrick Leahy Question For the Record) provided false information to Congress.

One cornerstone to this rather credulous narrative is the way the IG Report treats the surveillance of Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center. Rather than treat all the surveillance of the center together–which would reveal an obvious pattern and much better reason to lie to Congress–the report treats  several different iterations of surveillance separately. As a result, Fine was able to look at at least six reports treating Merton Center anti-war activism as terrorism (and ignore one more FBI investigative effort) and declare each of them acceptable.

The Chronology of FBI’s Thomas Merton Center Surveillance

Let’s start with the timeline (note all the names, except that of Farooq Hussaini, are pseudonyms chosen by DOJ IG, as reflected by the quotation marks) which shows fairly sustained surveillance of the Center over the course of three years:

November 29, 2002: Supervisory Special Agent “Susan Crosetti” sends rookie FBI officer “Mark Berry” to surveil people associated with the Thomas Merton Center distributing leaflets opposing the Iraq War. Berry takes photos of some participants. The report recording the surveillance is placed in the “international terrorism” file.

January 2003: Secret Service agent visits Merton Center to discuss upcoming protest in Pittsburgh.

February 26, 2003: Pittsburgh office produces Letterhead Memorandum, titled “International Terrorism Matters,” describing a vigil the Merton Center was planning for when the Iraq War started, as well as local events that had taken place on February 15, 2003 in association with the NY-based United for Peace and Justice sponsored protest.

April 4, 2003: FBI produces EC on Pittsburgh organizational meeting at the Merton Center in advance of Miami FTAA.

July 8, 2003: FBI EC describes threats that FTAA protesters would use puppets to attack riot police and Molotov cocktails.

July 10, 2003: First document recording ties between Person B (alleged to have pro-Palestinian feelings) and the Merton Center (note, this document must have been withheld from the FOIA).

July 21, 2003: Miami Field Office opens domestic terrorism investigation in relation to the FTAA protests.

July 25, 2003: Miami Field Office sends EC to Pittsburgh Field Office on August 29-31 planning meeting for FTAA including Merton Center.

July 26, 2003: FBI designates FTAA a Special Event worthy of heightened surveillance.

August 29-31, 2003: FBI conducts research on FTAA planning meeting at Merton Center in Pittsburgh.

October 29 (?), 2004: First report from confidential source mentioning the Merton Center (all these reports were faxed on July 8, 2005 and declassified on January 4, 2006). The source was apparently the friend of an agent’s son, and included reporting on planning for an anti-war march the Merton Center was planning. The source was purportedly recruited for an investigation into several alleged members of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group; that investigation was a terrorism investigation.

February 25, 2005: Second report from confidential source on the Merton Center.

March 1, 2005: Third report from confidential source on the Merton Center.

March 19, 2005: Fourth report from confidential source on the Merton Center.

Unknown date (before May 18, 2005): FBI agent visits Merton Center intern at intern’s residence asking for information about Merton Center activities.

May 18, 2005: ACLU PA FOIAs FBI documents referencing the Thomas Merton Center (among others).

Unknown date, 2006: Pittsburgh’s Chief Division Counsel reviews the source reporting (and two earlier anti-war reports) and tells agent to close the source.

January 23, 2006: “Carl Fritsch,” a member of Pittsburgh FBI’s legal staff, and Crosetti, both search FBI databases on Farooq Hussaini’s name.

February 1, 2006: National ACLU files FOIA.

February 8, 2006: FBI Field Division Attorney “Stanley Kempler” sends Record Management Division a routing slip, written by “Carl Fritsch,” indicating that the November 29, 2002 surveillance had been directed at Farooq Hussaini and alleging that Hussaini was associated with “Person B” who was the subject of a different investigation. This routing slip was–in the IG Report’s judgment–the first attempt to invent a cover story for the November 2002 surveillance. The same slip provided background on the February 26, 2003 and urged RMD not to release it.

March 14, 2006: ACLU releases FOIA documents, focusing on November 29, 2002 report; FBI issues a press release see PDF 205) inventing a public rationale for the surveillance and purporting to address the February 26, 2003 report.

March 22, 2006: FBI Director’s Research Group writes document “ACLU Allegations of Spying.”

May 2, 2006: Patrick Leahy asks Robert Mueller why FBI was surveilling anti-war demonstrators.

“Soon after” hearing: Leahy asks several Questions For the Record, including for any “earlier investigative memos” that served as the basis for the November 2002 surveillance.

May 16, 2006: Counterterrorism Division’s Executive Staff tasks “Clarence Parkman,” from their Iraq Unit, to draft a response to Leahy. Minutes earlier, Parkman had done a database search on Thomas Merton Center. Two analytical employees in the Iraq section emailed Kempler (cc’ing Berry) for more information. Kempler forwarded the request to Crosetti.

June 5, 2006: Iraq Unit of Counterterrorism Division provides 3-paragraph response to Leahy’s question about November 2002 anti-war rally newly claiming that Person B was the subject of the surveillance. The response also claims–contrary to the description in the original EC but corresponding to story Berry first told to IG–that Berry took pictures of just one, female, protester.

The IG presents this series of surveillance actions directed at the Merton Center as discrete events. It attempts to find an explanation for each incident of surveillance in isolation, and as such, is able to describe each as legally permissible, leaving only the attempt to retroactively invent an explanation for the November 2002 surveillance as really problematic.

But examining the other reports makes it clear that there was a pattern of investigating the Merton Center’s anti-war activities under the guise of terrorism.

Read more

Hal Turner: Allegedly Inciting Violence for FBI from 2002 to 2007

Hal Turner’s lawyer revealed his strategy today for getting Turner off on charges that he incited violence. Basically, he’s going to argue that he was paid to do just that by the FBI from 2002 to 2007, that he learned where "the line" was between legal and illegal incitement, and his recent comments have not crossed over that line.

In asking Gold to allow Orozco to represent Turner, Turner’s Connecticut lawyer, Matthew R. Potter, said Orozco has a long-term legal relationship with Turner, plans to bring a complicated First Amendment defense and is familiar with Turner’s background as an FBI informant.

That role as an informant for the FBI is a key part of the defense, Orozco said outside court.

Orozco said Turner was trained by the FBI as "an agent provocateur."

[snip]

Orozco said Turner worked for the FBI from roughly 2002 to 2007.

"His job was basically to publish information which would cause other parties to act in a manner that would cause their arrest," Orozco said.

His lawyer claims he left the FBI on his own. 

Wow. This could go one of many places. We might see a graymail defense, in which the FBI prevents Turner from testifying about what the fuck he was doing, if he indeed was. But the thing is, we know that FBI really hasn’t targeted the kind of nutters that Turner incites.

And I do wonder–who Turner is being funded by right now.

CIFA Lives?

Remember CIFA? That’s the military’s domestic spying program that used to spy on Quakers and bloggers like Jesus’ General. In April 2008, the Pentagon announced it was shutting down the program.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it sounds like they didn’t shut down the program.

A group of peace activists have confirmed that spies from a defense program have infiltrated their group. (h/t EC)

Peace activists in Washington state have revealed an informant posing as an anarchist has spied on them while working under the US military. The activists are members of the group Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance, which protests military shipments bound for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before his true identity was revealed, the informant was known as “John Jacob,” an active member of antiwar groups in the towns of Olympia and Tacoma. But using documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, the activists learned that “John Jacob” is in fact John Towery, a member of the Force Protection Service at the nearby Fort Lewis military base.

The activists claim Towery has admitted to them he shared information with an intelligence network that stretches from local and state police to several federal agencies, to the US military. They also say he confirmed the existence of other government spies but wouldn’t reveal their identity.

Read the whole Democracy Now piece–it descrbes that Towery, the spy, got himself appointed a Listserv moderator with access to all the email subscribers of this group.

GUILTY – The Fort Dix Five Convicted

The panel of jurors deliberating the Fort Dix Five terrorism trial has found all five defendants guilty of plotting to attack the military base and kill soldiers. The foreign-born Muslims from Cherry Hill Pennsylvania, were charged with conspiracy to kill military personnel, attempted murder and weapons charges. There does not appear to be date set for sentencing, but the men could be sentenced to up to life in prison.

From The Guardian:

The defence called the case against the Fort Dix, New Jersey defendants a big mistake, one that came to court only because of zealous investigators and sleazy FBI informants.

The prosecution said that the defendants were linked by their common belief in radical Islam and a desire to kill American soldiers, and that investigators stepped in before their plot could come to fruition.

"The government was mistaken about these men’s intentions," defence attorney Michael Huff told jurors yesterday. "You have the opportunity to correct that mistake."

In his rebuttal, Deputy US Attorney William Fitzpatrick said the defendants’ words and actions "cry out for guilty verdicts".

Defendant Mohamad Shnewer, for instance, drove to several military bases with an FBI informant, who was recording their conversation. Prosecutors called their trips "surveillance".

"All he’s talking about is picking targets, killing people," he said. "And the defence counsel wants you to believe he doesn’t mean it; he’s a flake." The defence did paint Shnewer, the lead defendant, as an overweight outsider and a screw-up, the butt of his friends’ jokes.

Mike Riley, the attorney for defendant Shain Duka, said the case was built on "the mouth of Mohamad Shnewer and the computer of Mohamad Shnewer".

In addition to his many inflammatory statements about killing soldiers, Shnewer downloaded more than 100 jihadist videos to his laptop, including some created by al-Sahab, the media wing of al-Qaida.

The Guardian article provides a good background on the matter and the different arguments presented by both the prosecution and defense.

It is hard to know the validity of prosecutions like this one with the tattered reputation of the Bush Department of Justice. The habitual practice of oppressive and deceptive prosecutions, and flat out dishonesty, especially on terrorism cases, leaves even jury verdicts open to question. January 20, 2009 cannot come soon enough.

In Minneapolis, Vegan = Terrorist

How does one equate vegan potlucks with this restriction on permissible terrorist investigations?

Mere speculation that force or violence might occur during the course of an otherwise peaceable demonstration is not sufficient grounds for initiation of an investigation under this Subpart, but where facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that a group or enterprise has engaged or aims to engage in activities involving force or violence or other criminal conduct described in paragraph (1)(a) in a demonstration, an investigation may be initiated in conformity with the standards of that paragraph. [my emphasis]

I ask because apparently, Minneapolis’ Joint Terrorist Task Force is recruiting people to infiltrate vegan potlucks to look for potential–what?–tahini enthusiasts?–in advance of the RNC convention this fall.

Paul Carroll was riding his bike when his cell phone vibrated.

[snip]

When Carroll called back, Swanson asked him to meet at a coffee shop later that day, going on to assure a wary Carroll that he wasn’t in trouble.

Carroll, who requested that his real name not be used, showed up early and waited anxiously for Swanson’s arrival. Ten minutes later, he says, a casually dressed Swanson showed up, flanked by a woman whom he introduced as FBI Special Agent Maureen E. Mazzola. For the next 20 minutes, Mazzola would do most of the talking.

“She told me that I had the perfect ‘look,’” recalls Carroll. “And that I had the perfect personality—they kept saying I was friendly and personable—for what they were looking for.”

What they were looking for, Carroll says, was an informant—someone to show up at “vegan potlucks” throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protestors, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. The effort’s primary mission, according to the Minneapolis division’s website, is to “investigate terrorist acts carried out by groups or organizations which fall within the definition of terrorist groups as set forth in the current United States Attorney General Guidelines.”

Carroll would be compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest. No exact dollar figure was offered. [my emphasis]

Now, maybe the vegans we’ve got here in Michigan are dramatically different from those infesting Minnesota. But where I’m from, vegans tend to be fairly peaceful people. Read more

Get Caught in a Sting, Get Thrown Out of the USA, Get Gagged about It

I suggested last month that the Liberty City Seven indictment looks more and more like a made for TV event, particularly after a mistrial was declared and one of the Seven, Lyglenson Lemorin, was acquitted of all charges. Well, now Lemorin is undergoing his own little Orwellian hell.

On the day of his acquittal, the judge in the case issued an oral gag order pertaining to the upcoming retrial of the remaining six defendants.

A federal judge on Friday aired serious concerns about the possibility of jury tampering in the upcoming retrial of an alleged homegrown terrorism group and ordered that Miami-Dade jurors be selected anonymously for the high-profile case.

[snip]

Her order — an edict normally seen in organized crime or major drug cases — means that potentially hundreds of Miami-Dade voters who receive jury summonses for the retrial in January will be referred to by number, not by name. Jurors’ names were known to both sides in the first trial.

The judge also ordered U.S. marshals to provide criminal background checks on all prospective jurors for both sides, and to escort those chosen for the 12-member panel to and from the courthouse in downtown Miami.

”I do find there is a strong reason to believe the jury needs protection,” Lenard said. “Here we have defendants accused of being members of a terrorist cell.”

No such precautions were taken during the first trial, which ended Dec. 13 in a mistrial for six defendants of the so-called Liberty City 7.

Read more

“Aspirational Terrorism” Won’t Send You to Jail, But It’ll Lead the News

The St. Petersburg Times has a good review not just of the mistrial for the Liberty City Seven, but of the larger context of failed terrorist prosecutions.

Another highly touted federal terrorism case ended in a mistrial Thursday.

After listening to more than two months of testimony and deliberating for nine days, a Miami jury deadlocked on charges against six men accused of pledging allegiance to al-Qaida in a plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. A seventh man was acquitted.

[snip]

With no guilty verdicts, the Liberty City Seven join about a dozen other terrorism defendants around the country who have been prosecuted since the Sept. 11 attacks in costly cases that resulted in acquittals and mistrials.

Joshua Dratel asks what I consider the money question: is this really the way we should be spending our time? Read more

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