FBI Raids Seen as Political Retribution

Recent raids by federal agents on the homes and offices of peace activists are being viewed by civil libertarians and civil society groups as further proof that the U.S. is morphing into a “surveillance state” where the right to privacy and other constitutional protections are being quietly whittled away.

On Sept. 24, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided the Minneapolis homes of five antiwar activists, the office of a Minneapolis antiwar group, and the Chicago homes of the head of an Arab-American organization and a prominent peace activist.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper reported that the raids were part of a probe of “activities concerning the material support of terrorism.” No one was arrested in any of the raids.

FBI spokesman Steve Warfield told the newspaper that the searches were conducted at about 7 a.m. Lawyers said the agents seized computers, cell phones, and documents in the protesters’ homes.

Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, told IPS, “The continued shocking harassment of peaceful antiwar, environmental, and other activists and dissidents under the Obama administration in this and other recent cases – such as those highlighted in the DoJ Inspector General’s recent report – is inexcusable and must stop.”

He added: “This once again highlights the urgency for folks of all parties, ages, and viewpoints to join the civil liberties community in efforts to resist the growing surveillance state and restore the usual constitutional requirements for individualized suspicion that has been watered down by the PATRIOT Act and similar laws enacted in the post-9/11 climate of politically manipulated fear.”

Protest leaders are quoted by the Minneapolis newspaper as saying the raids “surprised them.” One of the targets, Mick Kelly, whose home was searched, played a central role in the 2008 demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

Asked by the Star Tribune if he was involved in illegal activities, he replied, “Absolutely not.”

The newspaper said Ted Dooley, Kelly’s attorney, called the raids “a probe into the political beliefs of American citizens and any organization anywhere that opposes the American imperial design.”

He said the warrants cited a federal law making it a violation to provide or conspire to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.

The warrants were said to have focused on terrorist groups in the Palestinian territories and Colombia.

Subpoenas were issued to the activists to appear before a federal grand jury next month in Chicago. Raids also were conducted on two homes in Chicago, and grand jury subpoenas were issued in Michigan and North Carolina.

Following the raids, antiwar and similar organizations began to strategize their response. On Monday, about 150 people gathered outside the FBI offices in Minneapolis, some bearing signs that read “Opposing war is not a crime.” Other rallies are planned around the country for Monday night and Tuesday.

The antiwar activists targeted by FBI agents with search warrants Friday said they did nothing wrong, voicing resolve at a West Side rally Monday to continue opposing U.S. policy in the Middle East and South America.

Meanwhile, in a separate development, the New York Times reported this morning that the Barack Obama administration is drawing up legislation to make it easier for U.S .intelligence services to eavesdrop on the Internet, including e-mail exchanges and social networks.

The White House intends to submit a bill before Congress next year that would require all online services that enable communications to be technically capable of complying with a wiretap order, including being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages, the Times reported.

The services would include encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and peer-to-peer messaging software like Skype.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: William Fisher

William Fisher writes for Inter Press Service.