'Surveillance, Infiltration, and Harassment of Environmental Organizations'
    Hope Marston, Lane County Bill of Rights Defense Committee
    t r u t h o u t | Transcript

    Friday 10 March 2006

Hope Marston, of the Lane County Bill of Rights Defense Committee, spoke on the panel on "Surveillance, Infiltration, and Harassment of Environmental Organizations" at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (pielc.org) held March 2-5, 2006, in Eugene, Oregon.

    We have just heard a litany of horrible things that we are all dealing with all the time now and we've been dealing with for the last four years, and I don't know how many of you feel overwhelmed with it, but I do every day. I feel overwhelmed with all that's happening. The executive branch is now so far out of control that I'm really not sure how long it is going to take before we can restore our liberties, our Bill of Rights and our fundamental freedoms. The house cleaning that must take place, the dismantling of the repressive system that has now permeated our society, will be enormous.

    We will be very, very old when we've completed this work and that's what I believe, and in order to sustain hope, I look back to people like Ida B. Wells, who, at the beginning of this century was fighting against the lynching of African Americans, the murder, the systemic murder of African Americans in this country - hundreds of human beings killed every year in the south - they were murdered. And Ida B. Wells lived her whole life trying to get Congress to enact a Lynch Law that would stop that kind of murderous behavior, and throughout her life, she never saw Congress take action, and indeed, there is still not a law against lynching in this country. If you recall many of the murders during the civil rights era, those murders were not prosecuted under the kinds of lynching laws that Ida B. Wells was seeking. They were prosecuted under civil rights laws, as if all that was wrong with the killings was that those people's civil rights had been violated. So, even 75 years after her death, we still need anti-lynching laws, and we've got a ton of work to do on the Bill of Rights. We've got a ton of work to do to protect activists. There is no shortage of work to be done.

    Despite the fact that we may not live to see all that needs to change, I think it is really important that we keep going. Fortunately, there is a core of people as some people have said, it only takes a small, committed group of people - Margaret Mead said this - it only takes a small group of committed people to change the world.

    We can do it, and some of those groups of committed people are the Bill of Rights Defense Committees throughout the country. The movement started with a single Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Northampton, Massachusetts, looking for a way to speak out against the PATRIOT Act, passed in 2001, while it was still warm in the hands of Congressional members, who were asked to pass it in the dead of night, while anthrax spores were being cleaned from Capitol offices.

    Despite the passage of the PATRIOT Act, these ordinary people said: there has got to be another way to fight back against this, and so they started forming these Bill of Rights Defense Committees and they started going to their city councils and they started asking their city councils to pass resolutions opposing the PATRIOT Act and some of these other post-9/11 orders that violate our Bill of Rights. The very first resolution that was passed was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and it was directly in response to the persecution of a beloved community member named Rabbih Haddad, who ran an Islamic charity. The feds accused him of having funneled that charity money to terrorist groups. It was an allegation. Those charges were never taken to court, and yet they were used to intimidate Rabbih Haddad. It was used to drive him out of the country, and a lot of other Islamic people. A lot of other Arab Muslim people have been driven out of the country based on those kinds of allegations - nothing proven, and you're just deported.

    So, we're talking about people on the front lines: Muslim people who were broadsided right after September 11. Eleven hundred Arab and Muslim men were put into jails in places like Passaic, New Jersey, and at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center. They were slammed up against walls, faces bloodied on the American flag that hung there with the words, "These Colors Don't Run." And it was only much later that we found out about the abuses that those people suffered. And just this week, the federal government agreed to pay one of the men held in those jails $300,000 for his suffering. So, finally, a little light, a little piece of justice coming in to address some of these abuses.

    To address these and other abuses, many communities have passed resolutions against the PATRIOT Act and other post-9/11 violations of our Bill of Rights. There are 405 resolutions now. The most recent was the State of California, our country's most populous state. I am giving you this news because I know you have not seen it in the paper. I know you haven't seen it on TV. I have seen only two small articles about it, and I have been looking. The state of California passed a resolution opposing the PATRIOT Act. They passed it in time for Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to realize that their state was actually standing up in opposition to these kinds of anti-terrorist policies that are really targeting ordinary innocent people and activists, and yet California's groundswell of opposition to the PATRIOT Act was completely ignored.

    It took Senator Russ Feingold, from Wisconsin, to stand up in Congress just last week and read to his Senate colleagues the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and the eight resolutions that have been passed by the states of California, Vermont, Maine, Hawaii, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Colorado. Besides the eight statewide resolutions he read, 397 resolutions have been passed by community and county governments.

    This movement, this grassroots movement to reassert our Bill of Rights exists in communities all over the country. There are people like you who care about our liberties, who have been fighting very hard to get these Bill of Rights resolutions passed in their communities to show Congress the importance of not trading liberty for a false sense of security.

    We have a lot of work to do in 2006 and beyond. We need to continue to confront our Congressional representatives and say: "Where were you last week when the PATRIOT Act re-authorization came up, and there were only 10 people in the Senate who were willing to vote against it?" I don't care what you say, Senator Harry Reid from Nevada, when you say, "Oh well, we didn't like it. It wasn't the best it could have been, but we had to go ahead and vote on it." No. Sorry, that doesn't cut it, that doesn't cut it when we're talking about the Bill of Rights. I've got bookmarks of the Bill of Rights here. I want all of you to take one because you are going to need to know what your rights are because Congress and the White House are crossing off big sections of your rights.

    During all of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization hearings last year, representatives in the House and Senate were saying to us, "If you can find abuses of the PATRIOT Act, tell us about those abuses. We'd be happy to hear about them." Dianne Feinstein said, "If you can ever find an abuse of the Patriot Act, I'd be happy to not support it." Well, I'm sorry, but the PATRIOT Act is an abuse itself. It's shrouded in secrecy! It's very hard to find out what the abuses are when, if your house has been searched, you don't even know about it, and if your library records were searched, the librarian can't tell you. She or he is under a gag order. So, back in July last year, when the House and Senate passed their reauthorization bills, we didn't have a lot of abuses to report, because the abuses weren't known back then. But then, starting in October, we started learning about some of what was going on behind the scenes - abuses we hadn't known about before because they were still secret.

    In October, for instance, we learned that the Electronic Privacy Information Center, EPIC, had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get information about how the FBI had been using its PATRIOT Act powers. What EPIC found out from the released information was that the FBI didn't always file its warrants with FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which used to be used only to spy on foreign intelligence agents in the United States, expanded by the Patriot Act so now it can be used against any of us. So, EPIC learned the FBI was not always going to the FISA court right away to ask for those warrants. Some agents would start an investigation without going to FISA. But once this hit the news, it was immediately dismissed. "Well, you know, those FBI agents were not really well-trained. That was the problem. They weren't up on all of the newest procedures." I am looking at this and I'm thinking, "What do you mean they weren't up on the newest procedures? The old procedures were that they had to go to the FISA court. The new procedures were that they still had to go to the FISA court, but the requirements for getting a warrant were just a little more lax."

    So, what that told me was that after the PATRIOT Act gave the FBI so many new tools, the FBI standards had become very lax, to the point that these FBI agents seem to think that they can just go ahead and start their investigation without going to FISA. To me, it's a serious abuse, and Congress should have begun holding hearings on these abuses of the PATRIOT Act. We should have been seeing hearings on this, in October, and November, and December, before the 16 provisions of the PATRIOT Act were supposed to sunset.

    Then, in November, we learned that the FBI has been using National Security Letters to get information without having to go through the FISA Court. Instead of going to libraries and getting records through Section 215, which would require them to go through FISA, the FBI had been using National Security Letters, which are written by an FBI Special Agent in Charge. So, these are warrants that don't even go to court. This is just a Special Agent in Charge who writes a letter without court oversight.

    According to an article in the Washington Post, the FBI has been issuing 30,000 of these National Security Letters in each of the last four years. That means millions of documents, from your rental car agency, your airline agency, your storage unit, your library - they've been issuing national security letters to get this information on ordinary Americans. Then when they look at all these records and see what they've got, they say, "Oh well, that person isn't involved with terrorism, and that person isn't involved with terrorism." Yet they don't throw away those records of innocent Americans. They keep them in a database. Not only do they keep those records, but they are allowed to distribute them to other governmental agencies and private corporations. So, the American public learned about this abuse of the PATRIOT Act in November, and I'm beginning to think, "Hearings - where are the Congressional hearings? Why is it that - now that we've learned of these abuses that Dianne Feinstein wanted to hear about - there are no Congressional hearings?"

    And then, the bombshell drops. On December 16, 2005, when the Senate was getting ready to re-authorize the Patriot Act right at the last minute, a bombshell drops. The New York Times reported that President Bush decided shortly after 9/11 that he would use the National Security Agency to wiretap our electronic communications and he dares Congress to stop him because he says it is his inherent right as Commander in Chief. And when Alberto Gonzales went before Congress in January, that was his stance. Wiretapping Americans without a warrant from FISA is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. But now, it looks like Congress is backing down and saying, "Well, I guess we have to re-write the law to make what you did was legal, President Bush."

    In November we learned about the Pentagon spying on activists. We learned the government has been spying on activists: groups like PETA, Greenpeace, even the Quakers ... and we have this quote, from John Miller, FBI assistant director of public affairs. "You end up in FBI files, with your name and your group's name, because you're doing stuff."

    It sounds like the FBI has done a pretty good job of sticking to those rules, and I now want a definition of "stuff." What does "doing stuff" mean? It doesn't seem to matter. The government appears ready to spy on us when it wants to, and we're really going to have to organize and engage in some serious struggle to make them stop. We all need to stand up, because the more of us who stand up ... they just can't arrest us all, and this really may be time for acts of civil disobedience.

    One more little scary thing that is coming your way that was in this PATRIOT Act re-authorization. It was sneaked in, never debated, never discussed. It is one of those things the White House wrote and slipped in there, and there have only been perhaps two newspaper articles about it that I've ever seen.

    Section 602 - it's titled Interference with National Special Security Events. It amends Section 1752 of Title 18, United States Code, so that anyone who willfully or knowingly enters or remains in a posted off or cordoned off area, where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is visiting, will be subject to a fine or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both if the person carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or if significant bodily injury results. The second penalty would be a fine or imprisonment for not more than a year or both - that is, if there is no weapon or injury involved.

    So, I looked up Section 1752 of Title 18, US Code, and learned that, prior to this provision, if you knowingly and willingly entered or remained in an area that was posted off or cordoned off by the Secret Service you could've gotten a fine or six months in jail. And what we are talking about here is when the President comes to visit. The Secret Service says, "It's going to be in this airplane hanger, and everybody who comes in here is our guest," and if you're there and they want you to leave, you better go, because if you don't leave you can be arrested. So, it used to be a fine or six months in jail for remaining in those exclusion zones. Well, now, it's either a fine and/or a year in prison or a fine and/or 10 years in prison. When I read this sneaked-in provision back in July or August, I thought, "Why is the government trying to over-regulate these presidential and vice presidential events? Then, immediately, I flashed back to 2004 during the presidential election campaign. I don't know how many of you are aware that, in this community and in communities all over the country, there were people who tried to attend Bush/Cheney events, and they were either arrested or they were sent out or they were harassed in some other way.

    I mean, this isn't just Perrie Patterson, a soccer mom here in Eugene, who shouted "No!" at a Cheney event and was arrested, and this isn't just the three teachers in Medford, Oregon, who were wearing T-shirts that said "Protect our civil liberties" and were kicked out. This is also a high school kid in Iowa, who had a ticket to a Bush/Cheney event, and was asked to remove his button, which said "Bush/Cheney '04, leave no billionaire behind." That wasn't the scary part. The scary part was when the Secret Service staffer said to him, "If you protest, it won't be me taking you out, it'll be a sniper." The high school student reportedly said, "That kind of scared the heck out of me."

    When government employees are starting to talk like this, where is this going? Where are we headed here, when these kinds of innocent actions that are protected by our First Amendment elicit threats from a government employee? The First Amendment clearly protects "the right to ... petition the government for a redress of grievances." It's in the First Amendment, and now our government is isolating our representatives to make sure that they don't hear anything we have to say and that the press don't photograph the President surrounded by people who oppose his policies.

    So, I'm really concerned about that. I'm especially concerned about it because it's quiet, and the newspapers aren't reporting it fully, and so people aren't talking about it. And I think this exclusion zone provision is a law we will have to deliberately fight against. More and more people in Eugene are engaging in civil disobedience actions. It's a time-honored tradition - Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. all practiced civil disobedience against repressive governments. Civil disobedience is nothing to be afraid of. It should be a conscious act. It should be taken on with people that you trust and that you know, and you should know exactly what you're doing when you get into it. It's not a lark. Not a spur-of-the-moment event.

    I'm not seeing many other options for getting our rights back, quite frankly, seeing how Congress is capitulating. They're ready to write the law just as the White House wants it written. We've got until November to elect representatives who will stand up for our Bill of Rights. We have until 2008 before Bush leaves office, but many years to go before we will be able to completely dismantle the repressive machinery he has built. I hope that you'll join me and join other grassroots groups in doing all the work that is necessary to restore our essential liberties our Bill of Rights.