Coleen Rowley being interviewed at an action at the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. by Bill Hughes
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, nearly one week ago, a few hundred activists participated in two protest actions, one at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the other at Quantico Brig, where Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower who leaked the "Collateral Murder" video and possibly other information like the U.S. Embassy Cables to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, is being held in solitary confinement. The two actions had a profound connection: Martin Luther King. Jr, who if alive today would be standing up for Bradley Manning and against the FBI witch-hunt being carried out on activists in Chicago and the Twin Cities area.
Coleen Rowley, the former FBI agent and whistleblower, who was awarded TIME's "Person of the Year" Award in 2002 (along with two other whistleblowers who received the award as well), explains in an interview, "To the extent that Manning seems to be a victim of this much greater official repression, it does hearken back to the days when a civil rights leader could be targeted by the FBI."
An organizer with the Defending Dissent Foundation (DDF), Sue Udry, reported on the two actions explaining that more than one hundred gathered at the FBI headquarters at noon. About thirty people with Witness Against Torture, who were Washington, D.C., for their twelve days of fasting action to call attention to the Obama Administration's failure to close Guantanamo, were there in orange jumpsuits. CODEPINK, people with DDF, and others from a local civil liberties organization showed up to call attention to the injustice going on in the Midwest.
On January 25th, twelve anti-war and international solidarity activists will be expected to appear before a grand jury in Chicago. They and eleven others from Chicago and the Twin Cities area in Minnesota in the past months were subpoenaed. Several of the activists had their homes raided. Documents, cell phones, storage disks, computers, and children's artwork were seized from their home. The subpoenas indicated the FBI was looking for evidence that the activists had provided "material support for terrorism." And, recently, it was discovered that the FBI had an informant, who went by the name of "Karen Sullivan," infiltrate an anti-war group in the Twin Cities.
Rowley says of the FBI investigation, "History is repeating itself." War has produced pressure to find terrorists at home. She said the war that we were told was going to be fought over there so we wouldn't have to fight it here has now turned inward. She cites as evidence not only the infiltration of antiwar groups by informants but also the Office of Management and Guidance's plans to looks for "unhappy employees in the government" who might be "disloyal." Also, she believes the GOP has plans for "McCarthy-like" hearings in the House (perhaps, to be lead by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
The whistleblower, who spent twenty four years in the FBI before unveiling how the FBI had failed to take action on information provided by the Minneapolis, Minnesota Field Office on suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, recounts how the FBI informant "Karen Sullivan" became such a part of the Anti-War Committee:
If you go back to 2008 when this undercover actually came into Minnesota--and I was actually in two groups that she was first spotted at, not the Antiwar Committee, she was first spotted at a CODEPINK meeting where they were discussing that in the march on the [Republican National Convention] they were going to make big pink puppets. I mean, if you think about why would government even be spending its time sitting in a meeting talking about making puppets. That's how unbelievable this is and I was actually sitting next to her. This was probably late spring of 2008.
Then she came to our banner peace vigils that my group--We had about twenty people and we held a red banner that said "Support the Troops, End the War" over a highway. Totally legal in Minnesota law. When I was sitting next to her, I said come to ours and hold this banner. She came four or five times to our vigil."
At the US Social Forum in Detroit in June of 2010, she represented the Anti-War Committee. At the School of Americas Watch protest action, she helped lead the protest. At local meetings, she was taking leadership roles. This went on for two and a half years.
Rowley discusses how this happened during Vietnam. Martin Luther King Jr. was a victim of McCarthyism in the late "50s and early "60s. That later turned into COINTELPRO. She recounted how "the COINTELPRO group actually wrote an anonymous letter to MLK"that basically blackmailed him on the eve of his acceptance of his Nobel Peace Prize and suggested that he might want to commit suicide otherwise the FBI might release all this derogatory information they had." Then the FBI went after feminists, antiwar activists, and advocacy groups like the National Lawyers Guild.
While the Church Committee did work to put strict restrictions on government agencies that would protect civil liberties in the late "70s, 9/11 provided the moment for government agencies to return to the days of COINTELPRO.
According to Rowley, in April of 2008, Attorney General guidelines were "eradicated" reversing the "presumption that you need level of factual justification" or something to show to support infiltrating or closely monitoring an activist group. This to her is largely symptomatic of the world created in the aftermath of 9/11, "Top Secret America," which William M. Arkin and Dana Priest investigated for the Washington Post.
Part of it is, with 854,000 analysts, agents, consultants, operatives and contractors, 854,000 --- Between you and I, the average salary has got to be close to $100,000 for each of these. They have to prove that they're working. I can talk about the FBI that there are things called "work performance evaluations. And every so often there's a periodic evaluation where you actually have to show your statistics and these are things like subpoenas served and arrests and convictions. And the emphasis is on "terrorism" because that's the priority right now. So there's a strong pressure to categorize many, many things as "terrorism." And you've got to show that you're doing something. In fact, some of those abuses that the IG were basically a slow work day. So they have to actually keep busy and they have to do things. So you're going to this create systemic pressure toward opportunistic opening of cases, infiltrating, and even prosecuting.
It's also quantity of massive data collection over quality, which actually is counterproductive. From the standpoint of law enforcement, what good does it do to collect all of this irrelevant data? All it's doing is making it hard to focus in on any true terrorist threats.