The town hall introduced a chilling mountain of information describing how, since 911 and the introduction of the patriot act, regulations preventing abuses of power by espionage and surveillance agencies introduced in response to Cointelpro abuses, decades ago, have been just about totally nullified. The result is there are thousands of organizations-- at all levels of government and private-- that are spying on innocent activists and dissenters, then reporting their activities, their names and at the least irresponsibly, at worst dangerously, fraudulently and slanderously describing them as terrorists or people providing material assistance to terrorists.
In other countries, people who are accused of what the agencies in the US are saying are jailed, killed or disappeared. Actually, foreigners in the US who have been accused and then deported HAVE been jailed, killed or disappeared.
The town hall was organized in response to the discovery that the state of Pennsylvania had contracted with a private firm to provide reports of terrorist activity relevant to Pennsylvania. When a report was accidentally emailed to an activist working to protect Pennsylvanians from the risk of Marcellus Shale drilling, the lid was blown off this operation and freedom of information requests revealed that hundreds of reports had been generated that listed hundreds of totally legal peace, environmental and political groups, even Ron Paul supporters as potential terrorists.
Below is summary of the reports of the speakers at the town hall.
To view the actual videos of the town hall speakers and more quotes, see Cheryl Biren's article War On Dissent Town Hall; Documenting a failed and dangerous US intelligence network (Videos)
Mary Catherine Roper senior staff attorney for ACLU of PA
She describes a Chinese activist being sent to jail for 2.5 years for having a website, speaking out and holding magazine size signs complaining about adulteration of milk. Could this be where the US is heading?
"What you see is a wholesale attack on the whole concept of dissent-- not the beginning, just the latest and most obvious advance in that war. "
Institute on terrorism research and response (ITRR) was contracted, for $125,000 to put together reports on terrorism threats to PA infrastructure.
She asks people who have read their names mentioned in the bulletins to stand up-- about 25 out of an audience of about 125 do. She observes, "the rest of you, you haven't read enough of the bulletins."
She reports PA state police are taking over this "non-criminal intelligence" function, not something to engender greater confidence in our first amendment freedoms' security.
There has been lots of news coverage, one lawsuit on behalf of the gas drilling awareness coalition, because they allege that because they were listed in the bulletins they have had people refuse to have anything to do with them.
Roper states that this is about a government agency paying a private corporation to spy on the citizens who are trying to bring about change through social action, which is "not how I want our tax dollars used."
ACLUPA.org/tracked for info on what ACLU has gotten from FOIA requests, also more posted on PARevolution.org
She says, "Our solution is not in the courts. Particularly since 911 the courts have again and again protected government secrecy. The only thing that has put the brakes on this kind of abuse of dissent is public outrage. ...It has to be more than news articles. We need activists, interested citizens to talk to our elected officials, trying to get the government to enforce some accountability and transparency in terms of what they do about people trying to exercise their first amendment rights.
She gives the example about how when there was an uproar about NSA spying, when complaints were raised, Senator Specter said that attention would be given when there was enough outrage.
Bottom line-- talk to your friends, your neighbors, your representatives. Roper closes, "I know you are activists for all kinds of reason, but please save some of your time for this one because it really matters to all of us."
Paul Hetznecker, defense attorney and civil rights attorney discusses the historical context.
The war on dissent has a long and storied history in this country.
Church committee hearings revealed much of what was not known to the public.
Patriot act did much to codify what had already been done illegally by the government to protesters in this country.
One of the apparatuses used for intelligence was a collection of right wing think tanks-- which also provided misinformation -- they called for a catalog of dissenters.
Maldon Institute sponsored by Richard Mellon Scaife was one of the think tanks.
Before the establishment of the patriot act, they were doing intelligence gathering in order to nullify the effectiveness of the leaders of protests.
There was an agreement, a settlement, that Phila police would not infiltrate protesters. They got around it by using PA state policel, and now the state police are supposed to do a more responsible job of collecting surveilance information-- not reassuring.
Looking at state police as guardians-- they've been doing it for ten years. To what end" To undermine dissent, to stifle our first amendment rights.
Every dissenting group and person is subject to being catalogued... It's been going on for decades.
In philadelphia there has long been an active intelligence gathering process.
The danger is what was the label communist in the 1950's is now , today terrorist.
If you can be labeled as a terrorist by a private think tank, where does that leave you. It leaves you on a watch list, someone to be afraid of.
We are seeing an encroaching and entrenched intelligence gathering and fear mongering network that has already developed.
Regarding first amendment rights, Democracy only has meaning in the exercise of those rights, every day, all the time, not the words from a federal judge, not an acquittal in a courtroom. We re-affirm it first with our voices.
The war on dissent is unending. The exercise of first amendment rights is unending. We have to exercise it every day Be emboldened by the fact that they threatened your privacy interests and your freedom.
What can you do in your everyday life and your private life to not allow these frontiers to be limited by your fears by some right wing think tank that put you on a list.
Mike German former FBI agent and ACLU Policy Counsel in Wash. D.C.
All the legal restrains that were put on to insure that cointelpro would never happen again until now we are at a point where they don't exist.
Department of justice Inspector General Investigative reports are valuable sources for what actually happened.
Glen Fine Inspector General has done a good job. There are many reports, extremely detailed. All have executive summary and conclusion. The problem is most people only read the abstracted brief summary and conclusions, which can be misleading and leave out essential info.
FBI says they did not target these groups for their political beliefs.
But because of relaxed guidelines, anyone with the possibility of criminal behavior could be investigated by the FBI. Report concluded there was no factual basis for starting the investigations. German assumes the real reason was the individuals' and groups' political activism.
Once you are subject to an FBI investigation like that you are put on the terrorist watch list regardless of the findings of the investigation, even if you are determined to be completely innocent. This is injurious to people. This is a serious thing. This is not something that does not have harm. There are real harms that come from this in addition to your first amendment rights.
Last year ACLU discovered that MD state police investigated 53 individuals.
No information was ever uncovered that anyone was doing anything illegal.
One state police official was "the reason we continued was we thought it was good training for the undercover operative because we knew she wouldn't get hurt."
This is a network of spying activity-- this web of surveilance that is not just state and federal govt, and also private companies, is new.
aclu.org/spy-files has a lot of the documents uncovered through FOIA requests and narratives of what is happening and how it works. The site ties all these activities together.
Fusion centers-- state and local, regional operations that consist of more than one surveillance or espionage organization, which get together to share "intelligence information" These can be federal, state, local or private-- the federal govt denies ownership, responsibility or accountability for these operations which are out of control and accountable to no-one. There are no regulations regarding their activities. There's more on Fusion centers on the website listed above.
For example, the federal government denied responsibility even though people in MD were put in a federal database.
Attorney German suggest the term "Surveilance laundering" by which these fusions centers help to get surveillance information that may be illegal or inappropriate for other agencies.
Fed gives money to state govt. which hires a private company which gives information back which gets back to the federal govt.
The Feds have denied involvement, but FOIA inquiries found state police documents showing that homeland security was involved.
Because this is being formalized in these centers, it's very hard to stop it.
Because they're part of a network, the network is only as good as the worst operator.
This is not a victimless activity. It's very damaging in a lot of ways--- to the people who are inappropriately investigated.
Once dissent is suppressed against anyone, it's suppressed against all of us.
Washington Post report, Top Secret America reported that over 800,000 people employed in this surveillance industry-- a growing phenomena without any regulation.
Right before OBama took over, AG Mukasey eliminated just about all regulation of the FBI and this kind of surveillance. Obama has not done anything to reverse the absence of regulations. (Whistleblowers would say that the Obama DOJ is far worse than Bush's)
This kind of surveillance has always been around but it's becoming pervasive and formalized. So it's up to our legislators to put regulation back.
Jess Sundon one of the targets of FBI raids in the midwest.
founding member of twin cities anti war..,
On sept 24 their home was raided by FBI searching for material support for their aiding overseas terrorists
The spying that is happening to you and is happening here in PA could lead to what happened to me.
8 federal agents went through all her belongings over the course of 4 or 5 hours. looked through her six year old daughter's belongings. Looked through archives from her grandfather who had died several months before.
On that day five homes, as well as the office of the antiwar committee and two homes in chicago were raided. More than 70 federal agents were involved in the operation. In all 14 people were subpoenaed for a grand jury.
Friends were questioned. FBI went to people's employers. Told friends this about Jess Sundin how they manipulated people and how they manipulated you.
There something like 20 people on her front lawn before the raid was over.
The day of the raid 150 people showed up. That night a meeting was held in a church and over 250 people showed up. There were more than 60 protests held at FBI offices across the country, in solidarity, the following week.
Why was she engaged by the FBI? She travelled to Columbia, went to a conference-- meeting to talk about Plan Columbia-- the US military aid package going to Columbia. Our money is fueling a devastating civil war. In Columbia, being involved in activism can get you killed or imprisoned.
FARK was engaged in peace talks with the columbian govt. There were town halls where people could speak on what they wanted peace to look like. She went and listened and met with the guerillas who were involved in those peace talks-- like NY Times reporters, diplomats and many others also did.
Current terrorism laws make it illegal to provide "material support" for terrorist organizations. The law came into effect in 1996 and then strengthened with Patriot Act
People have been prosecuted for sending used clothing to relatives in Somalia.
Humanitarian Law Project targeted by this law-- lost a case before supreme court.
They wanted to train Kurdish workers party on how to claim rights before the UN but the org was classified as terrorist.
It has been suggested that Jimmy Carter could be prosecuted for his work in elections monitoring voting process with Hezbollah. The law makes it illegal to do all kinds of things with "terrorist" organizations.
Nelson Mandela was on the terrorist list until the day he became the president of South Africa.
This law isn't fair. There's not even a way to appeal it. If you and I believe that an organization should not be on the terrorist list, you could be charged as a material supporter for lobbying our legislators to remove the organization form the list.
Grand juries are the opposite of anything that you or I would ever see on TV. The whole Jury is run by the prosecutor. There is no judge. You don't get to bring an attorney. You don't know if you are a target or a witness.
A prosecutor can even indict a ham sandwich.
The grand jury is unfair.
When Salvadorans were mentioned in lists they were deported from the US, sent back to El Salvador and some of them were disappeared or killed.
She and her fellows have told the prosecutor that they will claim the 5th amendment but prosecutors can give immunity and force testimony and if you refuse to testify then you can be sent to jail for contempt of court. She expects to be put in jail for refusing to testify against her friends and fellow activists.
She says, "Our greatest defense is our movements, our movements, all of us standing together. "
Some of the most important dissident groups in US history were surveilled and some arrested by the FBI.
"I'm excited that we're able to come together for all the issues we work on. Our right to come out to a meeting or demonstration... this world cries out for justice. "
"All the wars we fight are fought in other people's lands."
"We are people with deep roots in our communities but we have been called to something larger."
What can be done?
The ACLU has documented this kind of surveillance in 33 states and DC since 911-- by federal, state and private organizations.
Make sure you make your local representatives and state police that you don't want them involved in this kind of activity.
The only way this surveillance network can work is if they keep the network alive, so keep police from giving info to the network.
First steps going on now:
There is a petition, and letters to PA governor elect Corbett asking him to issue an executive order preventing state police and homeland security to not collect information about political beliefs unless there is legitimate risk for crime.
First Amendment Network FAN was instrumental in planning the town hall.
Was there any restriction on who could be sent the "terrorism" reports generated by ITRR?
There was absolutely no restriction on resending of reports from ITRR
There was a huge original list and who knows who it was sent to by them.
I asked if any conservatives were in the room, and asked the speakers ideas on how to frame the problem of stifling of dissent so it would get tea partiers and people on the right allied in opposing the abuses of surveillance that are becoming institutionalized and codified -- There were no conservatives in the room, but Mary Catherine Roper noted that Ron Paul supporters were included in the reports and had intended to attend.
Another questioner commented that he'd made a resolution to do all he could to never allow the rise of a state like Weimar Germany and asked about whether this surveillance state in the US looked like the development of a fascist state. Michael German responded, "...anything that takes power away from the people and gives it to the government and allows it to use it in secrecy is a is a threat to representative democracy. The Patriot Act gives too much power to the government to conduct secret surveillance of the citizenry without probable cause or effective public oversight."
Another questioner observed, talking about the coal industry and Marcellus shale drillers, that "fossil fuel industries are the terrorists-- destroying land, people's air and water. It's time to turn the tables on the real terrorists. "
Former FBI agent Mike German told the audience that FBI considers non violent civil disobedience terrorism.
And that's America today.