Stopping The FBI From Spying On Social Movements
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has a long history of monitoring, infiltrating and entrapping activists and social movements engaged in First Amendment activity. A new report by Rights and Dissent’s legal counsel Chip Gibbons details some of these activities over the past decade. The report covers FBI surveillance from Occupy to racial justice movements, and from those who work to abolish ICE to peace activists. We speak with Gibbons about the history of the FBI, why it is not structured to be held accountable and how it fits into the whole practice of state surveillance. We also discuss how the FBI interferes with protected First Amendment rights and what people can do to stop these repressive practices.
Chip Gibbons is an expert on US Constitutional law, a journalist, and a longtime activist. He joined Defending Rights & Dissent as a Legal Fellow in 2015, after having led a successful campaign to defeat a proposed unconstitutional anti-boycott bill in Maryland. Chip became our first ever fulltime Policy & Legislative Counsel in 2016. As Policy & Legislative Counsel, Chip has advised both state and federal lawmakers on the First Amendment implications of pending legislation. He’s also appeared appeared on Al Jazeera as an expert on U.S. Constitutional law.
As a journalist, Chip writes about civil liberties and social movements, both from a historical and a contemporary perspective. His work has been published in The Nation and Jacobin, and he contributed a chapter to The Henry Kissinger Files (forthcoming, Verso Books). Even before joining Defending Rights & Dissent staff, Chip was an early contributor to the Dissent NewsWire. He continues to bring his journalistic talents to Defending Rights & Dissent, where he has done first hand reporting on the unprecedented prosecution of Trump Inauguration protesters and was instrumental in drafting our groundbreaking, first of its kind report on ag-gag laws. He has a far-reaching breadth of knowledge, covering everything from the applicability of the unconstitutional conditions doctrine to state anti-boycotts laws to the history of FBI political surveillance.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. Clearing the FOG is a project of PopularResistance.org. You can subscribe to us on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Mixcloud and Google Play. You can also find us on PopularResistance.org, and while you’re there check out the store where you’ll find Clearing the Fog Gear such as t-shirts, water bottles, tote bags and bumper stickers. So this week we interviewed Chip Gibbons, a legal counsel with Defending Rights and Dissent, who just authored a report on FBI spying on social movements.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): Chip has been doing work on civil liberties and constitutional law for years. He’s a fantastic, knowledgeable guy on constitutional law. This report he just finished is a blockbuster.
MF: So we go in-depth with Chip on the FBI spying on social movements over the past decade, what that looks like, the history of the FBI, why it’s not held accountable and what we can do to actually hold it accountable. So stick around for that interview, but first, let’s get into some things that are in the news. We just spent a week in the occupied Palestinian territories and just completed a newsletter on that.
KZ: Yeah. It was really eye-opening. I mean you read about so-called Israel, occupied Palestine, and the segregation, the Jim Crow laws, ethnic cleansing, and land theft but when you see it in reality, it’s so much worse. Anyone that doesn’t believe that Israel is an apartheid state is either fooled or lying to you. Anyone that doesn’t believe that Jim Crow laws are in control of Palestine because it’s so obvious. It happens in front of your face when you are there. We drove on Jewish-only roads. We went to towns where Israeli citizens, that’s what they’re called, are not allowed to go to those towns. It’s against the law for them to go to those Palestinian towns. It’s like going through the 1940s, 1950s south of the United States and seeing racism upfront and in your face and people there have to know what’s happening.
MF: I wanted to talk about some of the stories from our trip because we, you know, in the newsletter, we didn’t get to really go into depth on some of the stories from our trip. And when we were in East Jerusalem, which is a majority Palestinian part, and you can just see the difference between East and West Jerusalem. West has electric rail, commercial streets, beautiful sidewalks, landscaping, areas for music, lively restaurants and shops. East Jerusalem, and you see narrow roads without sidewalks. You see houses that are not in very good condition, no planning, very little in the way of public transportation and we drove down and you see Jewish settlements inside of East Jerusalem taking over that space. They’re intentionally not developing a lot of East Jerusalem because they want to take it over by Jewish settlers, but we drove on a road called Jericho Road. That was a major throughway from Jerusalem to the city of Jericho and they built the giant separation, expansion wall, annexation wall, whatever you want to call it. This giant concrete wall going right across that road with barbed wire. It’s completely choked off what was a major commercial hub for East Jerusalem. And so all these businesses that for decades had been thriving on that road had to shut down because there was no longer traffic going through.
KZ: That’s right. The road dead-ends where it used to continue on through Palestinian neighborhoods and communities and businesses and on to Jericho. You see in East Jerusalem these Palestinian neighborhoods where people have a very hard time getting permission to expand their house, buy a house, build a house and yet in the midst of these communities you have these settler communities. It’s not like a whole big settler community in the West Bank. This is in the city of Jerusalem, settler communities in Palestinian neighborhoods as they gradually encroach, use the housing laws to make it very hard for Palestinians to live there and build there and buy there but use the settler policies to make it easier for settlers to expand so they’re constantly encroaching, forcing families live together ,cousins live together because they can’t get housing, creating all sorts of stress that way. But what was really also striking, you go to in Jerusalem the walled City, the old city of Jerusalem, which is divided into quadrants. You see these Star of David Israeli flags hanging from windows in the Palestinian quadrant. We asked what happened was these settlers would go underground in the tunnels below the walled city of Jerusalem, go into these buildings and take them over. So even in the old city, they’re expanding the settlements there.
MF: What they do is they put a security door on the building and then they post Israeli Defense Force soldiers outside of it to protect it. So that was wild to see in the Palestinian quadrant in the old city, but I also, one of the things that I wasn’t as aware of was the whole Jewish National Fund, which was created in 1901 to quote-unquote Green the desert, Palestinian desert. They’re planting these pine trees, first off, which are not native to Palestine and which are actually destroying the soil of Palestine. But we went to the Nagab Desert and visited a place where there used to be a Palestinian village called Al Arraqib and this village has been destroyed 167 times. Even when they put up tents, bulldozers come and tear down the tents. Now, we talked to the few people that were staying there, all they have is a rug on the ground and some plastic chairs and they said almost daily law enforcement comes and takes their chairs, takes their stuff. What, all they have left literally in this village is a cemetery that was started in 1914. In the evening that we arrived, there had been a funeral for a resident of the village and there were hundreds of cars there at the cemetery. Of course, it was starting to get dark. They had to leave because there’s no village, there’s no lights, there’s no electricity or anything. But what they are doing is they’re planting these Jewish National Fund trees where that village was to cover it up and the people said every tree that’s planted is erasing one of us.
KZ: Well, that’s one of the techniques of occupied Palestine. There are hundreds and hundreds of villages that were destroyed. One of the tactics they use is to cover these villages with landscape. That could be a whole forest. So this Jewish National Fund is in the United States and Europe and Canada going to Temples asking for young kids to donate to and raise money to donate so we green the desert. What they’re really doing is they’re donating to cover up ethnic cleansing.
MF: And so there’s a lot of stories that we could tell from that visit. But I encourage people to check out our article because it gives you resources if you plan to visit so that you can also see the same realities that we saw, tours that you can take. But we met with leaders of this movement and why don’t you talk about what people in Palestine are talking about as a solution.
KZ: Well, that’s the good news. I mean there is the horrible apartheid, Jim Crow and racism and ethnic cleansing and land theft. All that’s going on. But the good news is there is a vision for a transformation to One Democratic State ODS, essentially BDS, boycott, divestment and sanctions, leads to ODS. Now, we have an endpoint. This is about a two-year-old campaign. It is made up of Palestinians and Jews who want to see a constitutional government. Right now, there is no constitution in Israel because in a Constitution you have to define well, what is a Jewish State? What is a Jew? What are the rights of Palestinians? I mean you have to be explicit in a Constitution. So ODS wants to create One Democratic State where every person has a vote, where there are equal rights for all, where minority rights are protected, where there are Jewish or Russian or whatever, whatever group needs protection from the law, their rights are protected and it’s a constitutional government. So it’s a total transformation. And I think now we have a vision for an endpoint. What happens if there is success and what happens to the Jewish population, what happens to the Palestinian public. These people are thinking it through and I think our job as peace and justice advocates in the US and around the world is to stand with the people of Palestine in solidary seeking ODS, One Democratic State. And the other thing is, at the same time this is developing, coincident with that, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. It’s because of the same things, these various forces are making this reality. There is no longer a majority support for a two-state solution. We know that a two-state solution is physically impossible. Impossible because of the Jewish-only roads, the security checkpoints, the settlers, the land theft, all that’s made a two-state solution physically impossible. When Netanyahu came to power, 70 percent of the people of Palestine supported a two-state solution. I mean Jews and Palestinians. Now, it’s under 45 percent for both populations support a two-state solution. People realize it cannot be done. So there needs to be a new alternative. We need a solution and the solution is One Democratic State. It’s so obvious and so essentially look increased security. Jews and Palestinians and everybody else in the Palestinian State, it’ll bring more security to the region because of the impact of the current state of Palestine. The occupied Palestinian territories is really a tool of US militarism. And so this ODS goal point really, needs to be something we all unify behind and show solidarity with the Palestinian people.
MF: Also, we want to let people know that just recently eight organizations submitted a letter to the United Nations to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and it’s basically a report documenting the apartheid state in the occupied Palestinian territories. And this is in preparation for a United Nations review of the Israeli State coming in December of this year. But let’s turn to Bolivia. So much is happening in Bolivia. You were just watching a live stream from Medea Benjamin, who’s down there. Talk about what you saw.
KZ: What I saw was a military that used to work for the people, now being used against the people. You see a military state taking over from what used to be a civilian, a civil government that had lifted up millions of people in Bolivia. Incredible statistics on decreasing poverty, decreasing illiteracy, homelessness, increasing education, growing the economy. Morales had put together one of the most successful economies in Latin America, and now you have this right-wing government coming in to place. The woman who is leading the effort, Senator Anez, has never won more than 4% of the vote. She’s a right-wing evangelical extremist. She walked in with a gigantic Bible bringing the Bible and she said very prejudicial comments about the indigenous people of Bolivia who make up 70% of the population. The scene that Medea was showing was a practice by the military preparing for Anez to come out and make her first pomp and circumstance surrounded speech to the nation. And when you see that happening at the same time that you’re seeing videos of indigenous people and others coming to La Paz to take back power, to return Evo to the country and remove Anez from office. It’s quite a stark contrast, this militarism and this people power. The people of Bolivia have been very successful in the past taking out violent governments, taking out neoliberal governments. It’ll be a difficult fight but I would not bet against the people of Bolivia.
MF: So for our listeners who may not have been following that closely, Evo Morales, the president, was re-elected. There was no evidence of fraud in that election, but the Organization of American States questioned the legitimacy of that election. Morales was willing to go through a process of auditing that election to show that it was a fair election. And then the head of the military, General Williams Kaliman, who has been trained by the United States School of Americas. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s the body in the United States that trains assassins and coup leaders for Latin America. Kaliman, who went to Evo Morales and basically said, we think you should resign in the midst of very violent protests being perpetrated by this right-wing coup supporters and also attacking Evo Morales’s sister. Her house was burned down. Threatening the lives of members of his cabinet and their families. Evo Morales did leave the country, resigned in the midst of those threats, went to Mexico where he sought asylum and was accepted. We understand that General Kaliman then left the country of Bolivia within 72 hours of telling the president to step down to the United States where he was rewarded financially for doing that. This new quote-unquote government by this minority Senator, the major party and the major holder of the Senate is the MAS party, Movement Towards Socialism. They have 70% of the Senate but she stood up and said that she was the new leader anyway, even though she’s a minority. They’ve been giving all kinds of very serious and scary orders, basically giving the military the license to kill protesters. Now saying they’re setting up a system to arrest members of the parliament and senators of the MAS Party who are pushing back against this coup effort. They’ve sent the Cuban doctors back to Cuba and a lot of this has to do with, in addition to the United States not liking a country that actually shows an alternative, but Bolivia also has a fair amount of lithium.
KZ: And lithium is the key to the electronic future. It’s the key to electronic vehicles, electronic cars, batteries. Some reports say, it’s hard to believe this is true, that Bolivia has 70% of the lithium in the world. That’s an astounding figure. I’d really want to see that confirmed but they do have a significant gas production. In fact, in the past, the issue was gas and the United States gas companies would get special privileges and buy gas cheap and the profits didn’t go to the people and that’s what Evo came in, first 14 years ago, promising to nationalize the gas industry and he did so. And that was one reason why their economy has helped the masses rather than just help the transnational corporations. Now with lithium, he had also refused to make concessions to transnational corporations. About a week before the coup occurred, he had made some decisions on that that offended the transnational corporate community that was actually working with China for them to help to excavate the lithium and get a share of it. And that was going to be a real problem for the global economy from the perspective of the United States and Western Europe. And so that seems like that could be a key factor, but I think they’ve been trying to get control of Bolivia. They had control under the first George Bush era. They’ve lost control for Evo’s first election and multiple elections after that and so it’s not just about lithium, it’s about an independent sovereign Bolivia being a key part of left rising government forces in Latin America that are breaking their ties to the United States. So it’s also part of US Empire.
MF: And the indigenous people of Bolivia, which make up the majority of the country, which are the majority of the supporters of President Morales, he himself is the first indigenous president of Bolivia, have been mobilizing to fight back. I think over 20 people have been killed. Many have been injured and today they marched to the city of La Paz. They shut down a refinery there. The Coca Growers, which is a group Evo Morales came from, the Coca Growers have vowed that if the current coup leader does not step back in 48 hours that they will shut down the major highways until she does. So there is a lot of resistance trying to overcome the coup, trying to bring Morales back into power.
KZ: It really is an amazing conflict that is already ongoing. It started before the election with the burning down of MAS Party headquarters by the right-wingers and continues to this day now with the military working with them, but they’re also seeing some breaks in that there’s some indications that members of the Security State are starting to begin to side with the indigenous people and those calling for an end of the coup. So there’s a little bit of a fissure there. We’ill see if that fissure turns into a fracture. If it does, that will be key I think for the Bolivian people regaining their democracy.
MF: Let’s talk about Julian Assange. I guess some good news this week, the judge who was going to be overseeing his extradition hearing, Lady Arbuthnot, is no longer, according to Assange’s lawyer Jen Robinson, is no longer in charge of his case. She had some major conflicts of interest. Her husband was a former Defense Minister. Her son is the vice president of a corporation that invests in cybersecurity, which is used by the US CIA and NSA.
KZ: Good news. I don’t know who’s going to take her place, but she was a terrible judge for Assange. She wouldn’t even consider bail after he served his time for the bail offense. She wouldn’t even let Assange’s defense argue that he should be released. She was very quick in all of her decisions against Assange. It was just amazing, the reports coming from her courtroom a very biased process. It looked like a kangaroo court very openly and she decided in fact of the actual extradition hearing, which is scheduled for next February, will be held in a very tiny courtroom with only a handful of spaces for citizens and media and would mean that there’d be four or five media covering this for the whole world and that would have just been a way to really shut the truth from coming out. So her leaving is a good sign. Who takes her place, would that judge reconsider some of these decisions, that remains to be seen, Assange has a strong legal team to fight for this but he is being mistreated. His life is in jeopardy. People need to organize to support Julian Assange. This is the free press trial of the 21st century. His case will define freedom of the press and our right to know for the 21st century. This is not just about Julian Assange. Although the injustice to him is extremely important, this is a much bigger issue that every media outlet, every person who consumes media should be on the side of Julian Assange insisting that we have a free press in the 21st century, insisting that the people have the right to know when their countries are committing war crimes. People have right to know when transnational corporations are controlling the State Department. That’s what Wikileaks produced, accurate and fact-based journalism, never been proven to be inaccurate, that showed widespread crimes in our US foreign policy and the foreign policy of US allies. He may be the most important publisher and editor of the century and he’s being treated with potentially a death sentence in prison while this extradition goes on is something we should all be revolting against.
MF: We published an article recently on Popular Resistance by someone who visited Julian Assange who was very concerned about the state of his health in prison and says that he really wants to hear from people. And so there is a website WriteJulian.com that gives you all the information that you need in order to write to Julian. Apparently he is receiving the letters and it’s very important to him. So please do that. People are also mobilizing around the world doing regular rallies and actions in support of him and just recently Wikileaks posted another very important revelation. A whistleblower from the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons came out exposing that the OPCW reports on the supposed chemical weapons used in Syria in Douma in 2018 were fraudulent.
KZ: This is a critical release that the OPCW was being manipulated to put out information that blamed Assad for chemical attacks. People might recall this was an issue that recurred over and over during the war in Syria and was an excuse used by Obama to escalate conflict in Syria, an excuse to attempt to remove President Assad from power. It never made much sense when you thought about it, it was always done at a time when Assad was winning a conflict in a region of Syria and then this chemical attack would occur and it would just be an excuse for the military from the United States and its allies to come into that area. Just, it never made any sense from a man on the ground factual perspective of the conflict. And now we see why. These were false allegations. The OPCW now is finally being exposed.
MF: So this episode that was reported on by the whistleblower from the OPCW was from 2018 under President Trump. We see that this continues, this falsification and attempts at trying to justify military intervention and aggression in Syria continues under the Trump Administration as well.
KZ: And once again, what we’re seeing with these leaks, this happens with leaks all the time, is that the leaks confirm what we already knew thanks to WikiLeaks. The reality of these fraudulent chemical attack claims is being made clear.
MF: More on Syria. The United States has moved troops to the northeastern region of Deir Ezzor where the oil is. We now see reports that the US military is bringing in construction materials. The thought is that the US is building military bases in that region. Talk about the oil in Deir Ezzor and why that’s important.
KZ: Well, it’s important for Syria right now because Syria has a multibillion-dollar challenge of rebuilding after years of war, incredible damage to major urban areas that need to be rebuilt. The oil is their major resource for funds. Now, it’s not a lot of oil from the perspective of the US, which is the largest oil producer in the world or from Russia, which has a large oil and gas industry or for the market. It’s not that big but for Syrians it’s big. The reality of this situation, the first coup by the CIA, attempted coup I should say because it failed, was in 1949 in Syria and ever since then there have been repeated efforts by almost every US president to take control of Syria. It is located in the key part of the world that links China and Asia to Europe. It’s a crossroads country and it’s geopolitically of great importance to US Imperialism and US Global Empire. And so the context is always important. Trump taking 1/3 the country and holding the oil, this is all part of a consistent deep US foreign policy plan. It’s failed and failed and failed. Syria has remained independent. I suspect that Trump will fail as well because the Syrian people and government are proud of being an independent sovereign nation.
MF: We talked last week with Andre Vltchek who spoke about the protests in Lebanon. There also have been protests in Iraq and now four days of protests in Iran. It’s interesting that these protests are all coming in countries that it would be advantageous to the US and its allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia to create chaos in these countries because power is shifting in the region. Iran has shown that it’s resisted the US maximum pressure campaign and countries like Saudi Arabia and other countries have started talking more with Iran and the US of course is losing influence in that region. And so there is suspicion, you know, while there are legitimate reasons to protest the governments in all of these countries, that it serves the US interests of destabilizing the region and hurting Iran. And just recently there were some new leaks about Iran. Comment on that.
KZ: These leaks are confusing. They are really leaks that are making all sorts of claims about Iran’s influence in Iraq and Iran’s foreign policy. They come at a time that are very advantageous to the United States. I think we need a leak of the source of these leaks because I’m very curious about where they’re coming from and how legitimate they are. The fact that the New York Times And The Intercept, which The Intercept has become questionable in some cases, unfortunately, because they do a lot of great work, just because it’s a leak doesn’t mean it’s accurate. And so I think it’s a lot of questionable issues: who benefits from these leaks? The United States. And so I think we need to get to the source of these leaks to understand really what’s going on here to get the full picture.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. And now we’re joined by our guest Chip Gibbons. Chip is the policy and legislative counsel for Defending Rights and Dissent. He is also a constitutional law expert and a journalist. Thank you for taking time to join us, Chip.
Chip Gibbons (CG): Thank you for having me.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): Great to have you on, Chip. Before we get into the report we’re going to talk about, which is a really interesting report about FBI surveillance on political movements and political organizations, let’s talk about something you and I are a part of, Popular Resistance and your organization were part of, along with about 80 organizations, and that was this effort to stifle protest in Washington DC by the Trump Administration. Can you give our listeners a little bit about that, an update?
CG: Sure. Late last year, the National Park Services asked for comments on new proposed rules that would have severely curtailed the ability to protest on public lands. You know national parks. The ones that got the most attention were the so-called protest tax that would have allowed the National Park Service to charge protesters for the cost of policing or cleaning up demonstrations. There was also concern that they were going to eliminate the deemed granted rule, which is that if you don’t hear back from the National Park Service within a certain period of time when you apply for a permit, your permit request is deemed granted. A hundred and forty thousand people submitted comments about this proposal opposing it. A number of organizations, I think something like you said eighty civil society groups, including Popular Resistance, including Defending Rights and Dissent, including labor unions, civil rights groups, also submitted comments opposing it. And it was just announced this week that the Park Service was withdrawing the proposed rule change. So that’s a pretty big victory, you know, because at the end of the day, democracy is about more than just voting. It’s also about freedom of expression and assembly and that includes the right of people to come together in a common cause and without public forms like the park system that right doesn’t really exist. And as a result, the National Park System is not only a custodian of our parks, but they also play a crucial role in facilitating democracy. And I would note that under international law, the right of free expression is interpreted as recommending that governments only require notice, not permits, for political demonstrations because as the previous rapporteur for the UN on free speech and assembly said that a right is not a right if it has to be granted. And DC as a municipality uses notice as a system and that’s part of the reason why it can be sort of weird to organize a demonstration in DC because there’s one set of rules for city property and another for federal property and that can be very confusing but I will not get into that.
KZ: People should understand that if these proposed rules had been put in place, it would have totally changed protest in Washington DC on parkland, which is most of the federal land that we protest at, and so it really would have been a change in a big way for protests in Washington DC. It’s tremendous that it got stopped. You know I really think the number of organizations coming together made a tremendous difference in making this happen. We only pushed those comments for about 10 days and got a hundred forty thousand comments. It was pretty amazing.
MF: If we’d had more time…
CG: Yeah, they’ve really tried to sneak it through and they did not.
MF: No, it would have put a huge chilling effect on our ability to protest because we don’t have the funds that they would require for…
KZ: To pay to protest?
KZ: Pay-to-play democracy where you have to pay the legislator to play or now you can have a pay-to-protest, but it got beat back and I think it would have been a terrible 2020 election-year issue. If that had gone forward and if we had made the ruckus we had planned on making, on top of the comments and the lawsuits, and it just would’ve been a bad issue for Trump in 2020. It wouldn’t help him in his re-election. So a good decision.
CG: Yeah, the Trump Administration and the Republicans have in general been trying really hard to demonize protests and demonstrations as sort of a way to fire up their base. I believe for a while, the Republicans were using the hashtag jobs not mobs on social media and just really really really attempting to demonize any sort of grassroots movement. Anyhow, the Trump Administration started off with the Department of Justice trying to try a hundred some people arrested during the inauguration on felony rioting charges. So there’s a real narrative or an attempt at the moment to paint a narrative of protest as somehow dangerous and violent and therefore illegitimate.
MF: Right, and we could also talk about the laws that are being passed at the state level to criminalize protest. The decision in South Dakota to take back that law that they had that basically would have meant that if people were tweeting support or urging people to join a protest that they could be charged with inciting a riot. I think somewhat, what was, I can’t remember exactly what the term was, but it was something along those lines.
KZ: You know, all that is covered in really great detail on Chip’s organization’s website. They cover a lot of those state laws. So if you really want to know about that, that’s a place to go for it.
MF: So Chip, what we really wanted to talk to you about mostly was this new report that you authored for Defending Rights and Dissent. And if you could tell us, it’s about FBI monitoring of social movements. Can you tell us how you got this information about the FBI’s monitoring of social movements and tell us a little bit about that report?
CG: Well sure, the report’s called “Still Spying on Dissent: The enduring problem of FBI First Amendment abuse,” and what it focuses on is FBI surveillance or monitoring of social movements, protest, civil society activity since 2010. And where we got the information from is, it’s all information that was already in the public domain. So a number of journalists have filed FOIA requests. A number of activists have reported being visited at their homes by the FBI and a very interesting development when Walmart was brought before the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices, it was revealed in discovery that they contacted the FBI JTTF, Joint Terrorism Task Force, about occupy protesters. So this isn’t secret information. This is information that’s been in the public domain and you might ask well then what’s the point of the report? And the report’s point was to try to compile it all in one place because when these incidents do get traction in the media, you know, they’ll focus on them very narrowly. They’re like oh the FBI visited this Palestinian rights protester or oh new documents show the FBI infiltrated this environmental group and they’ll never sort of put them in the larger context of the problem of systemic political surveillance in the United States. And when you start to put all of the incidents we know about together in one place in detail, a different picture starts to emerge and that’s the picture of a systemic problem. And after doing that, the report steps back and puts it in the context of sort of the FBI’s history since 1908 of spying on dissent. The other thing is that this is the information we know exists. In a number of cases what we know exists actually raises further questions, which is why it would be very helpful for somebody with you know say subpoena power like Congress to actually step in and do their own investigation of this matter because a number of times when people receive FOIA documents, they’re redacted to the point of being unintelligible. We know that different people have filed FOIA requests about the same information and gotten different responses. There’s, I think, some evidence to suggest the FBI is wrongfully withholding information that they shouldn’t be when they’re subjected to FOIA requests. And when you hear stories about activists being visited at their homes, I mean the question is why, what investigation is that part of? So I think that it shows what we know and what we know is very disturbing and it’s cause for action and is cause for concern but also just as importantly in my mind shows what we don’t know and why it is that someone like Congress needs to make sure we know more.
MF: Right because of course the data that you have is just the data that was available from FOIAs that have been requested. So we don’t really know the extent of the FBI’s infiltration and monitoring of social movements.
KZ: But we do know it’s pretty widespread just from what we do know and you know your point about a congressional hearing would be an interesting one. I mean that has happened in the past with the Church Committee hearings, you know, really exposing widespread government surveillance and FBI surveillance. And do you think we’re really at that stage again where it’s so widespread that we really have to have a series of Congressional hearings focusing in on FBI surveillance of political activity in the United States?
CG: I absolutely do think so. I mean the Church Committee is the example that usually gets cited. The Church Committee was a select committee investigation into sort of bad acts by the intelligence community in general. It talks about assassinations. It talks about CIA tricks overseas, but the committee did also talk about the use of intelligence to infringe on people’s rights domestically. A lot of people don’t know this but the FBI is not only a law enforcement agency, it’s often an intelligence agency. So there is some information in it about FBI’s use of its domestic intelligence powers to violate American’s constitutional rights and I can talk about some of what they were doing. But in the late 80s, there was another investigation done by the Senate Intelligence Committee with some, I believe, input from the Senate Judiciary Committee into what the FBI was doing when they were spying on opponents of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. It came out in the 1980s that the FBI had been spying on the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. There’s a number of ways this came to light. My favorite of which is that they didn’t pay their informant and he complained. I mean it wasn’t the only way this came to light, but that’s a particularly amusing anecdote and that the Senate had an investigation, not a hearing, but an actual investigation. They released a report. People at the time felt like it was a bit of a whitewash, but compared to the types of oversight we have of the FBI today, it certainly was an improvement. And then in 2006, it had come out that the Bush Administration was spying on a bunch of groups and that led Congress to ask the DOJ Inspector General to study the matter and they released their report of Bush-era FBI spying in September of 2010. That’s actually why we choose 2010 as our starting date because there’s been no real oversight since then and just four days after the report was released, the FBI was raiding the homes of anti-war and solidarity activists in the Midwest. The report covered the Bush era and it really showed how the FBI’s loose guidelines and a lot of people don’t know this but the FBI does not have a statutory charter. When the Bureau of Investigation was created in 1908, it was created while Congress was on recess and to this day it has no charter. After the Church Committee, there were some efforts to impose a charter on it, but Congress instead allowed the Attorney General to write guidelines in lieu of a Charter and as you can imagine conservative attorney general’s like those in the Reagan Administration and the Bush Administration rewrote the guidelines to be less restrictive and less protective of civil liberties. So since the time period covered in the OIG report, the FBI’s guidelines have actually gotten even looser. George Bush’s lame-duck attorney general Michael Mukasey, promulgated the current guidelines, which created a new category of investigations called assessments, which allows the FBI to investigate people using very intrusive techniques when there’s no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing or national security threat, just a quote-unquote authorized law enforcement purpose. And that’s the first time since the Church Committee where the FBI was allowed to investigate people absent facts that suggested they were engaged in either a national security threat or in criminal wrongdoing. The other types of investigations allowed in the guidelines are literally called predicated investigations and what that literally means is they have a factual predicate. So an assessment is an investigation without a factual predicate to suggest really any wrongdoing at all.
MF: So in the “land of the free” people can be investigated simply because of their political opinions, it sounds like. You mentioned that they use fairly intrusive techniques to surveil activists. Can you talk about what some of those are?
CG: Sure. I mean, I think the biggest problem is human intelligence or confidential informants. There’s a lot of focus contemporarily on sort of the high-tech surveillance that the NSA does or all these sorts of spy tools that local police departments are acquiring and that’s very scary. And I think just as analogous when people talk about the FBI of the pre-Church Committee era, there’s a lot of fixation on like illegal wiretaps and stuff like that. But most of the surveillance the FBI does is through human intelligence, that’s either an undercover officer or confidential informant. You can have the best encryption in the world, but if the person that you’re sending the message to is reporting everything back to the FBI, it’s not very helpful, which is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned with bulk surveillance and all this technology that sucking up all our information. We should be terrified of it. But we also should not lose sight that the FBI is still using the tried and true old methods as well. And increasingly what we see is that these confidential informants go well beyond gathering information and they actively engage as agents provocateurs meaning that they come up with terror plots and they entice people into participating in them and the FBI turns around and arrests them and says, hey look at these big terror arrest we got and that actually, you know allows the FBI to sort of over-exaggerate the threat as well. Because if they say, you know, we’re arresting all these terrorists, you know that implies there’s some sort of further need for security. And if you look at the second executive order Donald Trump gave authorizing the Muslim ban. The first executive order the courts were like what is the reason for this like, where’s the purpose? So the second executive order that gave up of justification for it, and it was two terror plots supposedly involving refugees, but in both cases those plots were the product of FBI agents provocateurs. In one of the cases cited by Trump’s executive order, a judge actually found it to be an example of quote-unquote imperfect entrapment, which is different than perfect entrapment and that entrapment is an affirmative defense and bars your conviction. Whereas imperfect entrapment is just an argument for a lesser sentence but nonetheless a judge said this was imperfect entrapment and Trump then turned around and cited that as justification for a repressive policy.
MF: Wow. Yeah, so just creating work for yourself, creating justification for yourself. I just remember right after the Occupy Movement was winding down in 2012, there were a few cases of young men, relatively young men, who were vulnerable, poor, homeless or…
MF: Addicted, right, and they were kind of entrapped into making it look like they were going to commit violent acts.
KZ: Yeah, what was interesting about those cases in Occupy was that in the past it seemed like the FBI would go after leaders of movements. But in this Occupy case, they were going after the low-hanging fruit, people who were living in Occupy who had some kind of emotional or addiction problems or economic problems and they were preying on those people and then making headline cases out of it. Can you talk a little about, we’ll talk about number of different categories…
CG: Yeah, I believe the case you are referring to is the one of Occupy Cleveland where there was a number of young men sort of on the margins, and as you said, they had a number of issues and an FBI informant, you know, enticed them into participating in this plot to blow up a bridge on May Day, obviously, that’s horrible. You shouldn’t blow up civilian bridges. No one has to say that, but there was no such plot and the FBI announced the arrests right on the eve of Occupy Cleveland’s major May Day demonstration, which was supposed to have revived the movement in Cleveland, which had sort of gone into hibernation during the winter and so they had to cancel the march. I mean, they didn’t have to cancel it but given the negative publicity, they didn’t have much of a choice. So they completely decimated the resurrection of Occupy Cleveland by creating this fake terror plot and then being able to defame the movement.
KZ: So what kind of groups are targeted by the FBI? Can you give us a sense of the categories?
CG: Yeah. It’s the same groups the FBI has always targeted. It’s peace and solidarity groups. It’s environmental groups. It’s racial justice groups, economic justice groups. We know that the FBI has this ridiculous threat assessment called “black identity extremism”, which argues that perceptions of racism and police violence and social injustice in the African-American Community could lead to retaliatory lethal violence against police. So the argument is that if you’re rightfully angry or rightfully concerned about the racism you’ve been on the receiving end of, about the police brutality you’ve been on the receiving end of in our society and you want to speak out against that, that’s a precursor to violence. And that’s a really insidious logic because it treats not only First Amendment protected speech as a precursor to criminality but rightful and legitimate concern about injustice as a precursor to doing a criminal act.
KZ: That’s such circular reasoning. I mean police commit violations of people’s rights, especially racist violations. The community is aware of it. And because you are aware of it, that you’re a suspect for potential violence yourself and therefore under surveillance by the FBI. It’s like so circular.
CG: They use that logic repeatedly. There was a recent document that Yahoo! News got a hold of from an FBI office in Arizona where they mentioned that because of people being angry at children being put in concentration camps and the abuse of migrants that there could be, there’s an increased likelihood of armed confrontation between Anarchists and and the federal government. I mean, it’s just, it’s totally insidious. It just treats First Amendment protected speech as a reason to be suspicious of someone as willing to commit a crime and when you look at these investigations, I mean when they single out these groups often times the FBI and their own files admit that there’s no indication that anyone is planning on engaging in violence, but an unknown person at an unknown point in the future could. So the FBI has very clearly embraced this logic that certain points of view are inherently suspicious and that they should be monitored and investigated.
MF: And one of the major groups that have been targeted by the FBI is the Muslim Community. Can you talk about that?
CG: Yeah. I mean, this is another really insidious thing that the FBI when it uses these confidential informants, it oftentimes sends them to the Muslim Community without any specific targets. There’s a very notorious case where the FBI engaged in something called Operation Flax where they sent an informant into a mosque in Orange County. The mosque actually reported the informant to the FBI because he was acting rather ridiculously and the informant came forward and said that he had asked the FBI, you know, who is my target and they said, oh the target will come to you. So what you’re talking about is a sort of dragnet suspicionless surveillance, and they asked this informant to infiltrate a Southern California mosque, gather personal information such as email addresses, cell phone numbers, political and religious views and he was even encouraged by the FBI to enter into sexual relations with Muslim women in order to gather intelligence and there’s an ongoing lawsuit about this surveillance. The FBI has tried to have it dismissed under the State Secrets Doctrine. It doesn’t look like they’re going to get away with that, but it’s still sort of highlights the problem of this suspicionless surveillance. Or another really infamous case of the Newburgh Four, I mean the informant goes into this mosque, he’s not targeting anyone in particular as far as we know. We have no idea why the FBI picked New York for this particular type of surveillance, and he eventually encounters the person he entices into this fake plot in a parking lot. So they’re just going into Muslim communities where no one is suspected of any crime and just surveilling them and then trying to invent crime. And what that says is that the FBI clearly views the Muslim community as a fifth column, which is why they are subjecting them to this awful suspicionless surveillance.
KZ: You know, it’s so interesting. And especially Robert Mueller was, in his era, this is before your report, but in his era as FBI director, he did a lot of that kind of activity in the Muslim Community. He also did a lot of infiltration of peace groups and yet people looked at Mueller as a great hero because he was investigating Trump for Russiagate. And so people on the left got, took this guy who was really an antihero and turned him into a hero and he turned out to produce a dud of a report on Trump. So we get confused very easily. So it’s good you have this kind of report out there.
CG: And I mean there’s an entire OIG report on Robert Mueller’s FBI counterterrorism investigation of domestic advocacy groups, like Greenpeace, like PETA, like the Catholic Workers. The last major attempt of oversight, which is a report released in 2010, but actually covers 2001 to 2006, coincides that time frame with Robert Mueller’s time at the FBI. And the FBI is engaged inpolitical surveillance. So, yeah, Robert Mueller is not a hero.
MF: And then we did an interview with Colleen Rowley who worked under Robert Mueller. I guess that was a couple of years ago.
KZ: She was very critical as well.
MF: Absolutely. So you are a constitutional law expert, Chip. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about the state of our constitutional freedoms in the United States right now? How would you assess our right to protest, right to free speech?
CG: I mean in terms of the FBI’s political surveillance, the courts have made it very difficult to challenge it at all. There’s a very important case in the 1970s where people who were protesting the Vietnam War in DC were spied on by the US Military and they tried to sue. It’s called Laird v. Tatum. They tried to sue the military for spying on them and the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision refused to hear the case on the merits. Therefore never ruling whether or not they had a First Amendment complaint or not because you know in order to be able to have standing to sue you have to show that you suffered a harm and that the court can remedy that harm. And the Supreme Court reasoned that you know, the idea that if the military creates a dossier, a military that’s you know dropping napalm in Vietnam, creates a dossier on you with your picture and tracks you because of your First Amendment protected activity, that you might not want to engage in that activity, that’s a self subjective chill. You’re doing the harm to yourself. So it’s extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. There are instances where people have gotten over that hurdle, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to challenge political surveillance in the courts. And what’s really needed is for Congress to act. And that there’s been over the years a number of fine pieces of legislation proposed to impose limits on the FBI. I think those limits should be part of an overarching charter. We’re talking stuff like forbidding the FBI from investigating First Amendment protected activity unless there are facts indicating a violation or likely violation of the federal criminal code and that they have to weigh the magnitude of the crime against the threat to free speech, which you know isn’t a terribly radical suggestion. It’s actually quite moderate, but, you know, just little things like that I think would be very helpful. I also think that you know, any sort of FBI charter needs to be judicially enforceable, meaning that if the FBI does break the charter and spies on you, you have a remedy in terms of both, you know declaratory and injunctive relief. So the courts can say this spying broke the charter and the FBI has to stop. I think those would be positive steps forward and I also really think Congress needs to just have an investigation into why the FBI is doing what it’s doing.
KZ: So much that could be done to protect the right to protest. And if you throw on top of what you’re talking about the attacks on journalism with Julian Assange, with Chelsea Manning, the attack on Max Blumenthal recently related to our living in the Venezuelan Embassy to protect it and uphold international law. I mean, there’s so many attacks on our freedoms. One thing I wanted to get your thoughts on is how early in a process do you think the FBI comes in? We noticed when we were at Occupy Wall Street, in fact, we were very open about planning Occupy Washington DC, we did all sorts of promotion of it. Occupy Wall Street was first announced by Adbusters in July as a suggested protest. Organizers start organizing in August. We noticed when they actually started in September on the first day at the back of Zuccotti Park, we happened to be leaving and we saw a police van, unmarked van, two people got out wearing jeans and hats and a backpack and looking like normal, you know, potential occupiers, but in the front were two uniformed cops. They went into Zuccotti Park right on the first day. How early do you think the FBI when they know a protest is coming gets into really looking into what’s and infiltrating and investigating the protesters?
CG: Well, with Occupy, we don’t have to speculate because we know from the documents that were released the FBI began monitoring Occupy Wall Street in August of 2011. That’s a month before the protests began. So before the very first protester ever set foot in Zuccotti Park, the FBI was on the case. I don’t know in every instance how with it the FBI is. The FBI is not always the most with it people when you look at some of these documents that they’ve released. But it’s not unlikely that you know before a protest or a movement happens for the FBI to start, you know, investigating or monitoring it. That’s clearly what happened in Occupy. I think there are other cases where they’re sort of late to the picture. There’s a very disturbing example that we talk about in this report that involves By Any means Necessary, which is a civil rights group, a racial justice group. They were doing a counter protest of the Traditionalist Workers Party, which is a right-wing, white supremacist, fascist and you know, the counter protesters, the racial justice protesters, were stabbed. They were attacked. And the FBI instead of investigating the fascists who committed a crime, they investigate By Any Means Necessary. And what’s very fascinating is that the FBI gets the name of the racist group wrong. They think it’s the Ku Klux Klan. So you get these FBI documents where the FBI says things like the Ku Klux Klan is a group that some people perceive as having a white supremacist agenda. So they end up investigating the civil rights group as part of a counter terrorism investigation and for possibly violating the civil rights of the Ku Klux Klan.
KZ: Wow crazy, it’s embarrassing.
CG: The Ku Klux Klan isn’t even the group. I’ve seen FBI documents where they’re you know describing the relationship between different activist groups, groups that I’m familiar with, and it’s like wow you guys really, you know on the one hand the degree of surveillance is so terrifying but on the other hand, it’s like you guys are also kind of really out of it.
MF: Yeah, we saw when we were at the embassy that they had a lot of their information wrong.
KZ: Oh, yeah, no question. You know it’s also interesting that the, it’s not just the FBI. That’s just one agency. You know, we have over 30 police agencies in Washington DC and in Occupy in New York, the New York City Police Department is the size of an army and there are all across the country, we’ve been increasing, the US has been increasing the number of police officers since the Clinton era. He added tens of thousands of, more than a hundred thousand police to the streets in his era.
MF: And creating these fusion centers.
KZ: That’s what I wanted to ask about. How does the FBI work with local and state law enforcement?
CG: Sure. So the FBI as a police force isn’t actually that large, I believe the NYPD has more police than there are FBI agents, at least that used to be the case, but what we increasingly see is that local police are working for the FBI in these so-called Joint Terrorism Task Force and in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, local law enforcement and in some cases other federal agents are assigned to them and they carry out their day to day missions as JTTF officers and they do this under the purview of the FBI and that in most cases they follow the FBI’s own guidelines. There’s been a lot of pushback against this recently because in a number of cases, states have laws on the books governing local police conduct and those laws are more stringent than the FBI’s own guidelines. So, in theory, the local police by following the FBI’s guidelines could be breaking state law. San Francisco rewrote their memorandum of understanding with the FBI mandating that local police have to follow local laws even when they’re acting as FBI joint terrorism task force agents. They then turned around and broke away from the Joint Terrorism Task Force completely. Portland also left that. And there’s been some controversy recently with some of these Federal task force, not just the Joint Terrorism Task Force, but some of the DEA ones, where they don’t allow their agents to wear body cameras. I believe this may have changed but they weren’t allowing the agents to wear body cameras. So in cities or states where it was the law that their police had to wear body cameras, they weren’t doing so when they were acting as Federal Task Force agents and local officials rightfully got upset by that. So more and more the FBI is turning local police into their foot soldiers.
KZ: You know, I don’t want listeners to get all insecure about this. There are ways to deal with informants, infiltrators and agents provocateurs. I mean, in fact on our Popular Resistance website, we have a class on how social transformation occurs. And it’s eight classes, at least one class is on these issues. And so there are ways for organizers to be aware of that and I think this report you did, Chip, is very helpful for people to know what kind of tactics they use, how widespread it is, what to expect, but beyond that there are other things people can do to build their movement in a way that handles this pretty well.
MF: So just finally, Chip, and I want to say we really appreciate the work that you do at Defending Rights and Dissent. It’s so critical for people like us that are involved in social movements. How can people who care about this issue get more involved? Is there anything that they can do concretely?
CG: Sure. So, we repeatedly called on Congress to investigate the FBI. We had a major campaign in 2016 where something like a hundred and thirty seven groups, including Popular Resistance, and 88,000 people signed our petition to ask the Senate and House Judiciary committees to hold hearings about FBI surveillance of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and by pipeline protesters. We are gearing up to relaunch that campaign in light of the report. If people want to read the report, it’s on our website at rights and dissent dot-org. It’s also at the URL rightsanddissent.org/FBI- spying/ And on that page, there is an action you can take, but in the coming weeks we’re going to be using this report as an organizing tool and trying to really build pressure around this issue of FBI political surveillance. And I, you know, on the one hand people in Congress who should know better have been embracing the FBI, this sort of foil to Trump the sort of we’re going to bring down Trump in a way that’s been very sort of unsettling but there has been increasing concern about the black identity extremism assessment and I believe Rashida Tlaib had a tweet about an Intercept article where our report was cited in it about sort of further revelations about FBI spying on black dissent where she expressed her concern. So I think trying to put the pressure on Congress to use this moment to try to look into what’s going on and actually come up with some tangible solutions. The first attempt to check the FBI political surveillance was in 1924. Harlan Fiske Stone read a report by the ACLU about the FBI doing political spying. He was so concerned by it, he made J Edgar Hoover meet with Roger Baldwin, the head of the FBI. Stone did not know that Hoover was spying on Roger Baldwin and the ACLU. You know and he put into place a regulation that the FBI had to stick to investigating violations of the criminal code and he asked Hoover, can you show us anywhere where it’s illegal to be a communist? Hoover found ways to get around that. The FBI’s very good at finding reasons to spy on people. But then in the 30s, there was a whole bunch of national executive orders from Roosevelt that gave the FBI very broad national security powers. So this isn’t a new issue but you know some of the ideas that have been proposed over the last almost 100 years are still very good ideas.
KZ: This is a big issue that needs constant attention because it doesn’t go away. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies. You know, we did a report on infiltration during Occupy and we looked at the history. Infiltration is a common tool in US law enforcement against political activities and you’re saying in this report, it’s continuing and so I really, we really appreciate you doing it. I think it’s so important for people to be aware of it and we urge our listeners now, you know about please join Chip in taking action to try to rein in the FBI.
MF: FBI. Thank you for joining us today, Chip.
CG: My pleasure.