(MintPress) – “The U.S. government has spied on political dissidents throughout history and this particular plot lasted through two presidencies, but never before has a court said that we can challenge it the way we have,” said Larry Hildes, a lawyer representing a group of anti-war activists challenging military spying and infiltration in anti-war groups.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a legal challenge to infiltration of anti-war groups Monday, creating a potential precedent for advancing the civil rights for demonstrators across the U.S. Although the case will be adjudicated in future proceedings, the first ruling is a major hurdle protecting First and Fourth Amendment rights of groups battling increased government censorship and military crackdowns. John Towery, an agent working for an unidentified U.S. Intelligence agency, spied on various activist groups in Washington State. However, the supposed “anti-terror operation,” appears to be nothing more than a violation of citizens’ rights.
The legal challenge was originally filed by Larry Hildes in 2009 after a group of Washington anti-war activists seeking justice for illegal government spying and infiltration sought his counsel.
Towery was allegedly dispatched from a “fusion center” in an effort to infiltrate the group and keep tabs on the movement of activists.
Created by the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 attacks, secretive compounds known as fusion centers have been used collectively by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. military and state- and local-level governments to coordinate intelligence and counter-terror activities. There are reportedly 77 fusion centers located across the U.S.
A review of fusion centers by the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee looking at more than 600 reports found that the program produced almost nothing that had to do with countering terrorist threats, wasting billions of dollars in taxpayer money to spy on peaceful anti-war organizations.
The victory not only advances the case the Washington activists have against the FBI, it is a potential breakthrough in the fight to rid legitimate, peaceful activist groups of infiltrators seeking to discredit the advocacy of law abiding groups.
Larry Hildes, an NLG member handling the case, commented saying, “This has never been done before.” Hildes added, “The U.S. government has spied on political dissidents throughout history and this particular plot lasted through two presidencies, but never before has a court said that we can challenge it the way we have.”
Although it will likely take years of trials to advance the case further, Hildes has created a compelling case by demonstrating that activists indicating that the Fourth Amendment Constitutional right prohibiting “unreasonable searches and seizures” was violated when Towery infiltrated and conducted clandestine surveillance of peaceful anti-war activists connected with Port Militarization Resistance (PMR), an organization that works to protest the war in Afghanistan and previously in Iraq.
Additionally, public records from the City of Olympia, Wash. submitted during Monday’s hearing show that Towery also targeted Students for a Democratic Society, the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace, the Industrial Workers of the World, Iraq Veterans Against the War, an anarchist bookstore in Tacoma and other activist groups.
Surveillance leads to self-censorship
Although mere surveillance does not restrict the ability of citizens to organize non-violent protest, the Constitution protects against unreasonable search and seizure by authorities, a right that appears to have been violated by Towery and the U.S. intelligence community.
The assault on civil liberties is nothing new for individuals in the anti-war community and other movements advocating for more just, democratic policies in the U.S.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, the FBI conducted extensive internal spying operations, looking specifically at the actions of dissident protest groups, including the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society and the American Indian Movement — among others.
The FBI, at times, resorted to violent, confrontational methods as a means to subdue dissident movements flourishing on college campuses and in poor communities of color during this era.
The Counter Intelligence Program “COINTEL pro” led by J. Edgar Hoover has expanded considerably, branching into newer, more insidious forms of surveillance.
According to the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, on Sept. 24, 2010, 70 FBI agents raided homes and served subpoenas to prominent anti-war activists in Grand Rapids, Mich., Minneapolis and Chicago.
As part of the raid, FBI agents seized caches of documents, computers, passports and photos as part of an investigation into anti-war activists’ activities. The FBI continues to look for evidence linking activists to foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) by showing that anti-war activities provided “material support for terrorism.”
These cases go largely ignored by mainstream media because FBI agents are largely participants in the types of crimes they are trying to prevent. By using methods of entrapment, covert FBI agents attempt to turn peaceful protesters into radicals through training and indoctrination.
Brandon Darby, the notorious snitch for the FBI, has worked consistently to undermine peaceful protest by trying to radicalize young protesters, most notably during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.
Darby is alleged to have brainwashed two young protesters, Brandon Mckay and Bradley Crowder, providing them with the knowledge and the means to build molotov cocktails. The two were described by peers as young, non-violent activists traveling from Texas for the RNC. Two additional informants infiltrated and helped indict a group of activists known as the RNC Eight for conspiring to riot and damage property.
Activists involved with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement have faced similar crackdowns during non-violent protests. Thousands have been arrested across the U.S., since Occupy encampments emerged fall 2011. While some fringe or unaffiliated individuals have resorted to violent tactics to advance their cause, the vast majority of OWS protesters have demonstrated peacefully.
On Oct. 7, 25 U.S. military veterans were arrested during a non-violent protest honoring fallen soldiers and demanding an end to the war in Afghanistan, an example of the arbitrary arrests that have crippled the movement in recent months.
Journalists covering the protests were subject to a similar crackdown as well. According to the 2011-2012 press rankings by Reporters Without Borders, the United States ranked 47th, falling 27 places due to the mass arrests of journalists and independent bloggers covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.
The Obama administration’s support for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could increase the numbers erroneously connected to FTO by prosecuting those journalists who have written about terrorist groups as part of their work.
By suspending citizens’ rights to habeas corpus and trying individuals in front of military tribunals, journalists could potentially be sent to penal colonies, like Guantanamo Bay, simply for having conducted an interview with a known terrorist.
War correspondents and journalists are allowed to conduct interviews with known terrorists as part of their work . However, the “Homeland Battlefield” provision puts this right in jeopardy and could undermine the function of a free, democratic press.
Whether journalists covering a war or activists protesting against it, the U.S. government appears much more willing to undermine citizens’ rights in an attempt to silence criticism, rather than change policy as to reflect the just, democratic aspirations of citizens at large.
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