ACLU Slams Classified FBI Memorandum Directing Law Enforcement to Engage in Protest Suppression Tactics

November 23, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today denounced a classified FBI intelligence memorandum, obtained by the New York Times, which gives police detailed instructions on how to target and monitor lawful political demonstrations under the rubric of fighting terrorism.

“”Attorney General Ashcroft has dismissed critics of the Justice Department’s tactics as ‘hysterical’ and has even said that such criticism aids the terrorists,”” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “”But this bulletin confirms that the federal government is targeting innocent Americans engaged in nothing more than lawful protest and dissent. The American people deserve an explanation for what is clearly a return to the days of J. Edgar Hoover’s spying tactics.””

According to a front-page story in today’s New York Times, the memorandum was circulated last month to local law enforcement agencies around the country in advance of mass marches and rallies in Washington, DC and San Francisco against the U.S. occupation in Iraq.

The memorandum, the Times reports, details how protesters have sometimes used “”training camps”” to rehearse for demonstrations, the Internet to raise money and gas masks to defend against tear gas. It describes lawful activities like recruiting demonstrators, as well as illegal activities like using fake documentation to get into a secured site.

“”It is troubling that the FBI is advocating spying on peaceful protesters, but even protesters who engage in civil disobedience or other disruptive acts should not be treated like potential terrorists,”” Romero said.

Of particular concern is one section warning law enforcement about protesters’ use of videotaping as an “”intimidation”” technique. Most mainstream demonstrators often use videotape during protests to document law enforcement activity and, more importantly, deter police from acting outside the law.

Citing no specific intelligence of suspected unlawful activity by the protesters, the memorandum describes, in detail, protest tactics and strategies that should be tracked by law enforcement officials including the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF).

While saying that the FBI possesses no information about any planned unlawful activity, the bulletin urges local law enforcement “”to be alert to these possible indicators of protest activity and report any potentially illegal acts”” to federal authorities.

Importantly, the ACLU said that it had already seen proof that peaceful activities were being monitored by the JTTF. Documents recently obtained by the ACLU of Colorado as part of its “”Spy Files”” lawsuit against Denver police confirmed that the local JTTF has been collecting information about peaceful protest activities that have nothing to do with terrorism or any other criminal activity.

News of the classified bulletin also comes on the heels of an ACLU lawsuit against the Secret Service for the continuing practice of allowing pro-Bush protesters to remain visible to cameras during presidential appearances, and corralling anti-Bush protesters into pens or designated areas far from the media.

The FBI memorandum is online at:

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