The phone rang.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and it was my day off. Sitting in my rather neglected garden, as the late afternoon light sparkled golden on the tops of the plum trees, I put down my book – the 1995 edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois – with more than a little annoyance. I was smack dab in the middle of a short story, “Asylum,” by Katharine Kerr, a tale about a future military coup in the US, written from the point of view of a particularly earnest liberal with faintly radical leanings. The main character is a woman writer who is abroad when the generals take over, and is marked as an enemy of the state on account of her book, Christian Fascism: Its Roots and Rise. Her San Francisco office is raided and her files carted away. She gets a call from a friend before the coup plotters cut off all communications with the outside world: “It’s seven days in May – stay where you are!” She stays, but is tortured by the prospect of her daughter being in harm’s way: when communications with America are finally restored, she wrestles with the question of whether to pick up the phone and make a call that might endanger her daughter. After all, what if the Christian Fascists are listening?
The phone kept ringing. I picked it up with annoyance: it was our webmaster, Eric Garris, telling me about this – FBI documents recovered through the Freedom of Information Act that detail surveillance of Antiwar.com, the staff, and specifically yours truly.
A word about the authenticity of the documents and their provenance: they were posted on a public website, Scribd.com: their form, including the extensive redactions, the acronymic bureaucratese, and the lunk-headed cluelessness which dominates the FBI’s corporate culture, so to speak, combine to verify their authenticity.
As to the content of these documents, one word describes them: bizarre.
According to a memo stamped “Secret,” marked as “routine,” and dated April 30, 2004, we apparently drew the attention of the feds when we posted a copy of a “terrorist suspect list” [.pdf] which had been supplied by the US government to various corporate and governmental agencies, both here and abroad. These documents – including one posted on the web site of an Italian banking association – contained the names of those on a “watch list,” the product of an FBI operation dubbed “Operation Lookout.” The memo acknowledges the list “was posted on the internet” in “different versions,” but says the FBI “assessment was conducted on the findings discovered on www.antiwar.com.”
These guys are using us a resource – so why haven’t they contributed to our fund drive?
The April 30 memo – which was issued to FBI counterrorism offices in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Francisco – is prefaced with the following rather ominous “administrative” note:
“This document contains information obtained under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), 50 U.S.C., Section 1801. Such FISA derived information shall not be used in any criminal proceeding, including grand jury proceedings …”
FISA created a special secret court, to which the feds have to go to get approval from a judge to tap your phone, open your mail, and rifle through your garbage. This accounts for the large number of lengthy redactions that pepper the pages of this report. Sneaking around corners, and spying on Americans engaged in peaceful and legal activities, they don’t want anyone to know how closely they mimic the methods of totalitarian governments,
After a paragraph of précis detailing the basic facts about Antiwar.com – its mission, personnel, and nonprofit status – the details of several database searches are enumerated. A search of the Universal Index (UNI) for antiwar.com “was negative,” however “a scan of the Electronic Case File (ECF) revealed numerous documents for [redacted] and antiwar.com.” This is apparently an index of documents, “intelligence,” and random rumors picked up by various FBI snoops. The information revealed about Antiwar.com is, naturally, redacted, although we are given a hint as to the origins of some of the dirt they have on us: “File 65T-HQ-1427774 serial 26, dated 04/14/2004, from the Counterintelligence Unit CD-4E/11869 to the Washington Field Office furnished Washington Field Office with information received by [next four lines redacted].”
So who says we don’t have friends in Washington?
The redactions are extensive. The next entry refers to another file in the FBI database and starts out in mid sentence:
“…that he was in possession of a document which was written in Italian. This document specified that [redacted] was a suspect on an FBI list. The document contained[redacted] social security number, date of birth, and two previous addresses. [Redacted] was listed as [redacted] on a list dated 05/22/02. This document can be found at www.antiwar.com/justin/CI-08-02.pdf.”
This almost certainly refers to one of my columns about the mysterious “Urban Movers,” the Israeli employees of a New Jersey moving company who were arrested on 9/11/01 on suspicion they had some connection to the attacks. Five Israeli nationals were arrested that day, and held for over three months, subjected to lie detector tests, and later deported back to Israel. The owner of the company, one Dominick Suter, and his wife, fled to Israel the day before the police raided the company’s office and hauled away cartons of evidence: the Suters are among those listed on the “terrorist suspect list.” That was the angle I pursued in my columns, and it looks like the FBI also took an intense interest in the Suters.
The FBI’s intense interest in this “suspect list” verifies that, as I wrote on several occasions, it is indeed authentic. The “enclosures” accompanying the memo include two pieces written by me on the subject: one a piece I wrote for Chronicles magazine about the New Jersey incident, and another antiwar.com column which they wrongly attribute to some website styling itself as “Pravda” (a site which was never authorized to publish my work). While the FBI and the US government have long denounced the persistent stories [.pdf] of “Israeli art students” and “Urban Movers” conducting covert activities on Israel’s behalf in the US as an “urban myth,” their inclusion of Suter and his spouse on their “Operation Lookout” list and their apparent panic that I publicized this fact directly contradicts their denials.
Here’s how the law enforcement resources devoted to “counterterrorism” are being spent: scouring for useful “intelligence” on Antiwar.com on the internet turned up an article – title and author redacted – “reporting on the magnitude and value of American military and economic assistance to Israel” whose author cited “one of his sources of information as www.antiwar.com.”
Aha! Evidence! But evidence of what?
A report dated 11/13/2002 describes a peaceful protest at the gates of a military base in Britain, during the course of which someone handed out a leaflet citing my “Urban Movers” piece. Another report, detailing a meeting of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, apparently attended by one of their undercover agents, says “a member discussed a website, Antiwar.com,” as a way to “educate themselves about the Middle East conflict.” As if to provide a “balanced” view, the memo cites the website of the New York Jewish Defense League – an officially designated terrorist outfit – as including “harsh criticism” as well as photographs of Eric Garris and myself.
Slowly, but surely, the author of this FBI memo is building a case: the document is written in the language of an indictment – but what are the charges? That Antiwar.com is widely read and cited? That we posted a publicly available document on the internet, one that was published by Cryptome.org and others? That we are in league with neo-Nazis and are hoping to start a race war and initiate a reign of terror? Well, that’s just a warm-up, folks, because it’s worse than that:
“File 17A-LA-234485 serial 55, dated 11/10/2003 indicated that on 10/27/2003, a special agent reviewed the computer hard drives of [several words redacted]. The review of two hard drives revealed visits to many websites between 07/25/2002 and 06/15/2003. One of the websites listed was antiwar.com.”
Of course, we’re terrorists – yes, that must be it. Otherwise why would the FBI Counterterrorism Unit be taking such an interest in Antiwar.com? And the proof? Well, someone snared in one of their investigations actually went to our website – more than once! If that isn’t a good reason for the feds to set their dogs sniffing around our garbage cans, well then I don’t know what is.
Following this “incriminating” tidbit are several redacted paragraphs, interspersed with one rather intriguing comment: “There are four FISA derived references [to Antiwar.com] located at Newark [FBI Office].” Only the serial numbers corresponding to the files in the FBI database are referenced: the rest is redacted, including what they discovered after searching DMV records.
Under “Analyst Comments,” we are told that “the rights of individuals to post information and express personal views on the internet should be honored, however” the “terrorist suspect list” we published is somehow “singular in nature and not suitable for public release.”
Well, they should have thought of that before they released the list to that Italian bankers’ association and other internet-accessible sources. Yet we aren’t dealing here with rational human beings: these are government snoops pursuing an ideologically-driven vendetta.
From the implication that we’re engaged in illegal activities the memo segues easily into inquisitorial mode:
“There are several unanswered questions regarding www.antiwar.com. It describes itself as a nonprofit group that survives on generous contributions from its readers. Who are these contributors and what are the funds utilized for?”
The idea that the FBI is interested in identifying our contributors is probably not something I ought to be dwelling on in the midst of our fundraising drive: clearly the feds want to intimidate our supporters, but I have to ask: what in the name of the Constitution is the FBI doing investigating the contributors to a legal organization that is engaged in exercising its right to free speech, absent any evidence of criminal activity? In spite of the memo’s strenuous efforts to link us with terrorism, the “evidence” they present is laughable, strictly amateur hour – an embarrassment. Are these the people charged with protecting us? If so, these Keystone Kops are worse than useless: they’re downright dangerous.
The next three lines of the memo are redacted, ending in “on www.antiwar.com,” and continuing:
“If this is so, then what is his true name? Two facts have been established by his assessment. Many individuals worldwide do view this website including individuals who are currently under investigation and [next two lines redacted].”
Justin is a name I adopted at the age of sixteen, when I decided I was going to be a writer; my Wikipedia entry contains all the information they’re seeking in that regard, as any sixteen-year-old could discover in a few seconds of Googling. But I guess it’s too much to expect the FBI can muster the investigative powers of an American teenager. They proved that on 9/11/01, and in this memo they prove it all over again.
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 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.”
Reading that, I could hardly believe my eyes. Yielding to a sudden need for fresh air, I went out into my garden and just sat there for a few moments, warming myself in the last rays of the setting sun. It all seemed so unreal. Was this really happening, or had I imagined the whole thing? I returned to my computer and read it again, just to be certain, and – sure enough – there it was, plain as the pixels on my screen: I was accused of being “a threat to National Security” and working “on behalf of a foreign power.”
What “foreign power” would that be – Libertopia? Galt’s Gulch?
On what evidence was this “preliminary investigation” opened – and is it continuing? We don’t know the answers to these questions because the FBI redacted a good deal of the information it released to the FOIA petitioner, an obscure blogger I’ve never heard of. If the feds have such evidence, then let them release it – instead of releasing heavily censored documents that simply make unsupported assertions. That this kind of systematic defamation is now part and parcel of our system of “law enforcement” makes a mockery of the idea that we live in a free society. We don’t, as this incident has brought home to be in a very personal way.
That some idiotic overpaid FBI “analyst” is sitting around “analyzing” material that appears on Antiwar.com and concluding that we are engaged in activities “on behalf of a foreign power” is straight out of Bizarro World. Instead of tracking down criminals, and listening in on the communications of terrorists plotting violence against this country, they are sitting around reading my old columns, intercepting my emails, and listening to my phone conversations. This is at once depressing and frightening: depressing because one wonders: don’t these incompetents have any adult supervision? Frightening because the idea of some government sneak having full knowledge of my internet hookups and my two-hour long conversations with my sister about the condition of her cats is the ultimate in creepiness.
That the FBI is engaged in a campaign of defamation and intimidation aimed at this website is not at all surprising, and yet I still can’t accept it emotionally. We have done nothing wrong: indeed, it is the FBI which is clearly in the wrong. Their activities in regard to Antiwar.com are of dubious legality, and are an infringement of our rights to free speech and to organize on behalf of our ideas. We demand the FBI retract its defamatory and damaging accusations, cease all investigations of our legally protected activities, and – most important – reveal the nature and full extent of their trumped-up “investigation.”
Are we still living in America – or are we living in a world very much like the one depicted in “Asylum,” where I have to worry about what I say and who I say it to, for fear of my government? It looks like the coup envisioned in that science fiction story has already occurred.
Like the main character in “Asylum,” these days I pick up the phone with some trepidation: do I want to call this person and say that with Big Brother listening? Do I want to incriminate someone – a friend, a relative, an acquaintance? How careful do I have to be in what I say?
The FBI wants to know how we manage to fund Antiwar.com, and I have to say I really don’t know how we’ve done it all these years. “Who are these contributors, and how are the funds utilized?” That’s easy: just take a look at that thermometer on the right side of the front page. It says how much was given by how many contributors – and no, we don’t release the names of small contributors, and never will. How are the funds utilized? They pay for the upkeep of this site: we pay paltry salaries to some of the writers, the administrators, the web monkeys, and the editors. We pay to keep Antiwar.com safe from denial-of-service attacks, and other cyber-shenanigans engaged in by mysterious “hackers” and others with the same agenda as the FBI’s, which is to shut down Antiwar.com permanently.
Antiwar.com is clearly under attack from the government – but that’s not the only problem we face. The government is so eager to know how we get our money, and so I’ll let them in on the inside scoop: with increasing difficulty. Thanks to their disastrous economic policies, whereas two or three years ago it took us a mere week to meet our fundraising goal, these days it takes three weeks.
We’ve got the feds breathing down our necks, and our creditors, too: it’s a two-front war against snoops and a bank account in perpetual decline.
We need your help in fighting this battle: we need our readers and supporters to stand up to Big Brother (or, in this case, Big Sister), and tell the feds to go to hell. The best way to do that is by making your tax-deductible donation to Antiwar.com. We intend to expose the feds’ spying operation and part of that is a legal fight – but we need funding for such an effort, far more than our minuscule budget presently allows.
We want to teach these creeps a lesson, one they’ll never forget – but we can’t do it without your help. Please, make your donation today – before “Operation Smear Antiwar.com,” better known as “Operation Frame-Up,” puts us out of business for good.