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FBI Expands Probe into Antiwar Activists

Democracy Now! speaks with two of the antiwar activists being targeted and two former FBI agents.

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So, this creates a huge chill beyond these activists or their associates to the entire advocacy community, where, you know, again, these people, as already stated, have longstanding advocacy histories, you know, are organizers, know a lot of people in the community. So it creates a chill throughout, and it damages our democracy, because people start to be afraid of participating in the political process. And that really is a huge problem beyond the scope of just the individuals involved in this case. And, you know, the fact that the FBI is doing this and using terms like "terrorism" to describe these individuals creates a huge chilling effect that we really have to be concerned about.

AMY GOODMAN: Mike, I wanted to ask you—I don’t know if it’s exactly related, but new details on how the United States has assembled a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators. Another Washington Post exposé on this, the FBI operating a massive database known as Guardian with the names and personal information of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents who have never committed a crime but were reported to have acted suspiciously by a local police officer or a fellow citizen, the database containing over 160,000 suspicious activity files. Despite the sweeping size of the database, the Washington Post reports, the FBI says it’s resulted in only five arrests and no convictions. In addition, the Post reveals the FBI is storing 96 million fingerprints in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

And the Post also reports that local law enforcement agencies have begun using surveillance equipment designed for war zones. In Memphis, Tennessee, some police patrol cars now contain military-grade infrared cameras that can snap digital images of one license plate after another, while analyzing each almost instantly.

Mike German, you have worked in counterterrorism for years, before being at the ACLU, from 1988 to 2004. What’s going on here? What are the dangers with this?

MIKE GERMAN: Well, you know, you might remember a program called Total Information Awareness that was started right after 9/11, and the idea was, if we can just grab all the available data that’s out there, somehow we’ll be able to manage it in a way that we’ll know everything that’s happening. And while Congress killed that specific program, that idea never disappeared.

And the FBI appears to be at the center of one of these expansive collection programs called eGuardian, is the new one. Guardian is one that’s been around for a while. But now there’s a new one, eGuardian, that’s part of a nationwide suspicious activity reporting program that encourages state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as the general public, to report behaviors that they describe as inherently suspicious, and these include things like taking notes or drawing diagrams, taking measurements, taking photographs or video. So, of course, these are benign activities that have no inherent suspicion regarding them, so what we’re concerned with is what people will really be reporting is people that, because of their own personal bias, are already suspicious of. You know, it won’t be everybody who’s taking notes; it’s only going to be that person who wears religious garb that they are, you know, religiously biased against or, you know, a person of a specific race or nationality. So, what this allows, this sort of reduction in standards allows the collection of material against people who are not even suspected of being involved in wrongdoing. And that is really an open door to abuse.

 
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