Sloppy FBI Work Leads to Spying on Journalists

This was originally posted by the ACLU of Northern California.

Remember, the online news magazine that discovered it had been targeted by the FBI? The ACLU of Northern California filed a freedom of the press lawsuit to obtain full FBI records on and its founding editors, Eric Garris and Justin Raimondo.

The ACLU got involved because freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. Government surveillance of news organizations interferes with democracy and journalists' ability to report the news.

We received the first disclosure of documents in response to our lawsuit, and they confirm our suspicions that the FBI targeted and spied on, Garris and Raimondo based on their First Amendment protected activity and kept records about that activity in violation of federal law. They also illustrate some very sloppy work on the part of the FBI and how following up on a bogus lead generates a cycle of wasted intelligence resources and targeting of innocent Americans.

(The FBI disclosed 47 pages of documents, but is still withholding over 100 additional pages it collected on these journalists. One key memo was produced with information disclosed that had previously been redacted—prior deletions are highlighted in this copy of the documents for ease of reference.)

This is what the documents we did get reveal:

  • Newly disclosed portions of the key FBI memo confirm the purely journalistic nature of Raimondo's, Garris's, and's activities.
  • The recommendation (made in the memo) to open a preliminary investigation was based on incorrect information and deeply flawed factors.

One of the factors that prompted the FBI to investigate the editors of the online magazine was that Justin Raimondo writes under this pseudonym. The content of a writer's published opinions and whether they write under a pseduonym should never be used to characterize someone as a potential threat to national security, or justify an FBI investigation. The First Amendment protects anonymous speech too. News articles and the comments of the public should not be included in FBI intelligence files unless they're necessary to a real criminal investigation.

The second flawed factor that prompted the FBI investivgation is that "many individuals worldwide…including individuals who are currently under investigation" view the website. Presumably people around the world, "including individuals who are currently under [FBI] investigation" view all kinds of websites and news sources. Being part of a successful media outlet should not make a journalist suspicious and should not be the basis for government surveillance.

The third flawed and incorrect factor was the FBI's mistaken conclusion that Eric Garris had threatened to hack the FBI website. In fact, Garris reported to the FBI that he was the recipient of a hacking threat to After reporting this threat, he was instructed to forward the email to the FBI, which he did. The FBI later concluded that Garris had threatened to hack the FBI website and placed him under suspicion.

The rest of the good and bad news from this disclosure? Well, the good news is that the San Francisco Field Office of the FBI declined the suggestion to open a preliminary investigation. The bad news is that two FBI offices later wrote memos citing the original flawed and improper threat assessment, showing both a waste of intelligence resources and how bad intelligence keeps producing more bad intelligence, leading to more and more records in an FBI file about innocent people engaged in constitutionally protected activities. As if to demonstrate how long this information can sit around haunting an innocent person, the FBI file also included a 1972 memo about Eric Garris's constitutionally protected participation in an anti-Vietnam war protest.

The improper investigations mean that Garris and Raimondo continue to be flagged in FBI memos. This downward spiral is based on the improper and incorrect conclusions the FBI made in the initial investigation. This is enough for us to ask the court to expunge these records from our clients' files, which we will do.

We also plan to keep pushing for the 137 pages from the FBI's files on Garris, Raimondo and that the FBI withheld from disclosure. It's troubling to know that the FBI kept so many more records on these folks and imagine what they might say. Stay tuned to find out.

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I can say from experience, being related to someone who died in an international crisis that involved wide media coverage, most people in the media gave our family no reason to trust them.
And I don't believe they deserve their information "at any and all costs," even if it means disrupting the family by sneaking onto their property and then BADGERing them for a story, even after the mother said she didn't want the 15 y.o daughter talking to the media.

That's not "freedom of the press," it's trespassing.
They thought they deserved their story even if they had to re-traumatize a teenage girl to get it and kept saying that the "public deserves the whole story," as if the "public" cared anything at all about my daughter when the "public" didn't know her. How COULD they care; you can't get emotional about people you don't even know.

If the media would do their part and stop stalking people for stories, I'd be more inclined to help them. And I BET other people would as well.


File a FOIA action, mock the FBI in comical hand-outs and a corrupt Fl sheriff department that's under a federal oversight program, expose a federal under cover informant, file frequent FOIA's requesting radar plots of FBI and DEA unwarranted surveillance flights, and YOU can come under surveillance in this so called FREE COUNTRY.


Those who think we still live in a free country are dreaming or remembering an America that no longer exists. Welcome to the United Empire of Corruption and Oppression. Just look at what Congress and the President want to spend money on. More money for killing, spying and oppression, less money for anything and everything else.

I appreciate the ACLU's hard work, and encourage everyone to speak publicly about this systemic corruption and abuse of American ideals.

Erik Kiehle, Tuscola, TX


Right. Like Bush DIDN'T do that. Killing, spying and oppression. He's the gd one who actually STARTED all this crap, and he did at least ONE thing that the current administration HASN'T continued: He tortured people in secret, or approved of it being done and all but RUINED the chances of these suspects getting the "justice" *I* hoped they were going to get.
And I VOTED for Bush, although I sure don't know WHY anymore and it certainly WASN'T b/c I thought he was going to freakin' have people TORTURED for God's sake.

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