Ashcroft Unleashes FBI Spies

Police State USA

Revolutionary Worker #1154, June 9, 2002, posted at

"Today, I am announcing comprehensive revisions to the department's investigative guidelines. The guidelines emphasize that the FBI must not be deprived of using all lawful, authorized methods in investigations, consistent with the Constitution to pursue and prevent terrorist actions."

Attorney General John Ashcroft, Dept. of Justice press conference, May 30

With those words, Ashcroft handed the FBI sweeping new powers to spy on people within the United States. Massive resources are going to be shifted to the FBI. The FBI is going to be sharply reshaped as a "a domestic CIA."

At least 2,600 agents will be involved in "domestic intelligence." New spy departments are going to be funded, staffed and trained. Over 500 agents will be moved from criminal investigation (like drugs and white collar crime) to "domestic intelligence." About 900 new agents will be hired and largely put to work on spying--with special emphasis on languages other than English.

There is a special focus on developing huge centralized data bases, keeping the Internet and email under close police watch, routinely sending police spies to meetings and religious gatherings, and developing a new central machinery for sifting through the vast amounts of information that will now be sent to Washington, DC from networks of informants, email surveillance and wiretaps.

Most important of all: Ashcroft announced a profound change in when federal spying will be legally allowed. In the past, the official guideline of the FBI was that their agents could only spy on or infiltrate a group when there was evidence that someone was violating a law--that actual and specific crimes were being planned or committed.

Now local FBI agents can initiate spying operations without "probable cause" of actual crimes and without prior approval of the FBI headquarters.

The new Ashcroft "reforms" will put many groups under much closer police surveillance--especially in Muslim communities and radical political trends. They will rip away the personal privacy of millions of people--by creating a greatly expanded network of government snitches and expanding new, coordinated, central files on the activities and views of citizens. They will have (and are intended to have) a major chilling impact on political life--especially the activities of immigrants and those seeking radical change within the U.S.

All these changes are being implemented without any legislative hearings or votes. The FBI has been given these sweeping new powers by the authority of the White House. The change went into effect immediately.

This is, in short, a huge step in the making of a police state.

The Nightmare of a"Domestic CIA"

Consider this: Twenty-five CIA experts will help reorganize FBI headquarters and procedures, and other CIA agents will go to FBI desks in each city. FBI officials will go through CIA training.

The CIA itself is being given powers to spy within the United States and billions of dollars to do it. And the investigations are not limited to foreign groups like al-Qaida. The CIA is now permitted to read secret grand jury testimony without a judge's prior approval. It can obtain private records of institutions and corporations seized under federal court-approved searches. Legislation is now in Congress to approve CIA reading of email within the U.S. without a warrant.

Consider this: The CIA has brutalized and murdered people all over the world. The last time the CIA ran a domestic spying program--called Operation Chaos in the 1960s--it gathered "personality files" on over 7,000 people within the U.S. and tracked over 1,000 domestic political groups.

And this same CIA even played a key role in creating Al-Qaida--they financed, gathered, encouraged, trained, armed and organized such Islamic fundamentalist forces from all over the world in Afghanistan.

The CIA has organized fascist coups. They have trained and armed rightwing death squads all over the world to assassinate leading activists and to terrorize the masses of people. They serve vicious capitalist interests that exploit the people and resources of countries around the world.

Question: How could a "domestic CIA" possibly be in the interests of the people? What will life be like--what new challenges will confront those who fight for change and liberation--if this fantasy of new spy networks gets fully implemented?

As for those who support such a "domestic CIA"--what class and what interests do they serve?

Don't Worry, Feel Safe

"We intend to honor our Constitution and respect the freedoms that we hold so dear. Our most important job is to protect America. And the initiative that the attorney general will be outlining today will guarantee our Constitution. And that's important for the citizens to know."

President George W. Bush

"In this new and developing situation we are going to face great political complexity but also this extremely draconian, literally police-state repression of an increasingly militarized society, a heightening repression that already has these very real fascist elements within it--very real elements of suspending or undermining the bourgeois-democratic principles that they proclaim so loudly. ... This ruling class is in the process of heightening the repressive nature of all this--taking major and open steps to undermine the bourgeois-democratic framework within which these rights have been proclaimed. Of course, they assure us, no one should worry, because as they repeatedly insist, `We are very mindful of people's constitutional rights and we are going to be careful to protect those constitutional rights.' In other words, `We will take great care to protect people's constitutional rights while we trample on them and destroy them.' And they have certain `magical phrases' with which they refute every criticism of this. One such phrase is: `But we're at war.' This is supposedly the answer to every objection to their police-state measures and militarization of society. Just like the way that, when they say `terrorist,' everybody's supposed to stop thinking."

Bob Avakian, RCP Chairman
"The New Situation and The New Challenges" March 17,
available at

"Reversing correct verdicts goes against the will of the people."

Mao Tsetung

A huge scandal erupted recently when it was revealed that Bush himself had seen--before September 11--detailed intelligence briefings about the possibility of attack within the U.S. And it was revealed that Bush had plans for the war on Afghanistan sitting on his desk two days before the September 11 attacks.

The White House is twisting this scandal to argue for more police powers. Conservative commentator David Brooks called this "shifting from scandal mode to institutional mode." FBI head Robert Mueller said his agents "might" have prevented the 9/11 attacks--if they had had more freedom to spy and more money for analyzing reports.

Meanwhile, the public was given a steady injection of high anxiety. For two weeks, top officials announced that new attacks within the U.S. are inevitable. In New York City, there was a wave of new tunnel closings and roadblocks. Ashcroft's announcement coincided with the openings of the movie The Sum of All Fears, a new Tom Clancy blockbuster depicting a "terrorist nuclear attack" on a Super Bowl game.

Ashcroft's moves are portrayed as "the demand of the people." It's a case of "when we want you to have an opinion, we will give you one."

Consider this : Margaret Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights says: "History suggests the FBI won't stop at passive information gathering. We fear a return to the days of Cointelpro."

The modern FBI was born out of the notorious Palmer raids of the 1920s that rounded up thousands of communist immigrants for deportation. Over many decades, the FBI has targeted progressive, revolutionary and other oppositional movements for disruption, isolation and frame-ups. This reached a peak during its Cointelpro operations of the 1960s, where FBI agents organized assassination raids, black bag operations, snitch-jacketing (spreading false rumors that activists are informers), and other disinformation aimed at the revolutionary movements of the times.

Now, Ashcroft's "reforms" completely and specifically reverse the rules imposed on the FBI after their Cointelpro operations were exposed 28 years ago.

This change of police rules was not created in response to September 11. This is the new legal spy powers the FBI has been scheming to get back for 25 years.

Since 9/11, the U.S. government has proclaimed the right to pursue anyone overseas whom they label "terrorist"--without any need to provide (or even have) evidence of their claims. Now they are demanding the same "blank check" inside the U.S.

Consider this: The man in charge of the FBI's new "Office of Intelligence" is Dale Watson, the Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence.

In February 2002, he testified before the Senate on "The Terrorist Threat Confronting the United States." After discussing "foreign groups," he described groups within the U.S. that he believed should be watched. These included groups, he said, who "generally profess a revolutionary socialist doctrine and view themselves as protectors of the people against the `dehumanizing effects' of capitalism and imperialism." He said such groups "aim to bring about change in the United States and believe that this change can be realized through revolution rather than through the established political process." When he listed specific trends, he mentioned the Puerto Rican independence movement, anarchists, "extreme socialist groups" and forces in the anti- globalization movement like Reclaim the Streets and Carnival against Capitalism.

Question : John Ashcroft now says: "The abuses that have been alleged about the FBI decades ago would not be allowed." Why should anyone believe him?

Consider this: John Ashcroft fully embodies the term "Christian fascist." This is someone who describes Confederate generals as heroes, who views dancing as a sin, who put burkhas on nude statues in his office building, and who dreams of completely criminalizing abortions.

Question : What could be more chilling than John Ashcroft, his boss George Bush and the class they serve reshaping the political police and redefining political life for millions of people?

Federal Spying without "Probable Cause"

"The new guidelines will trash a central protection against government fishing expeditions by ending the requirement that law enforcement agencies have at least a scintilla of evidence--or even a hunch--of a crime before engaging in certain investigative activities."

American Civil Liberties Union press statement

"These new guidelines say to the American people that you no longer have to be doing something wrong in order to get that FBI knock at your door. You can be doing perfectly legal activity like worshipping or talking in a chat room; they can spy on you anyway."

Laura Murphy, director of ACLU national office

In the past, federal agents could not (not officially at least) start a spying operation on a person or a group without "probable cause." This meant that they had to have some reason to believe that someone was committing a crime or planning something illegal. Now, this rule has been dropped.

In the past, local red squads were assigned to spy on public political events, but the FBI was formally directed to pursue investigations that were directly tied to specific illegal acts. The FBI traditionally got around this restriction by using local police--through the operations of the Joint Terrorist Task Forces in every city.

Now the federal agents are being unleashed to directly spy on people--even when there is no evidence at all that anyone is doing something against the law. And the national FBI headquarters in Washington DC is unleashed to gather evidence from countless informants at legal meetings and religious gatherings.

Local FBI agents can carry out new spy operations for up to six months without getting approval from their superiors in Washington DC.

Ashcroft claims there will be limits on the kinds of database files the FBI will maintain on people and organizations. In fact, a key part of his reforms is vastly increasing the file-keeping of the FBI. Just one example: the FBI will now use commercial "data-mining services." They will hire private companies to do systematic collection of political and personal information from the Internet. These privatized files will be used by federal agents but will be outside the guidelines imposed on federal agents.

Certain forms of spying still officially require warrants and "probable cause"--including searches of homes, email traffic and computers. But now, no warrants are needed for the FBI to routinely infiltrate mosques, progressive churches, mass meetings, social parties, chat rooms, e-lists, and many other kinds of political activity.

Federal agents can now routinely gather lists of people who read a certain book at the library or buy it online, or who visited a certain web page--even if these things are not illegal and even if the people being tracked are not associated with any illegal activity.

The men accused of hijacking airlines on September 11 did not talk in chatrooms, put up websites, attend political rallies, borrow library books on radical ideas or (as far as is known) express any public criticisms of the U.S.

But Ashcroft is carrying out a sweeping plan for a expanded, routine, federalized police spying on whole sections of the people--including movements for social change--using the justification that among them (somewhere) there may be dangerous "terrorists."

New Praise for "Profiling"

Question : If "probable cause" is not the basis for federal spy operations, what is?

Consider this: Throughout the last weeks of scandal, the "Phoenix memo" of FBI agent Ken Williams has been highly praised. The fact that this July 2001 memo was "sidetracked" in Washington DC and "not acted on" has been portrayed as an example of exactly what needs changing in the FBI.

Here are some points that everyone should remember:

Williams' memo called for an investigation of Muslim students in the U.S. based on what he calls "a hunch." He said he had talked to some Arab students at a flying school and discovered they had "anti-American" views. Williams thought that the discovery of people with such views was reason enough to call for national dragnets and spying in schools across the country.

This was a plan based solely on (a) the students' nationality and ethnic profile plus (b) their political views (which this super-patriotic former SWAT team leader found shocking and offensive).

None of the people Williams was spying on have ever been connected to the September 11 events or any other illegal activity.

But now it is assumed (within the political establishment at least) that the lesson of September 11 is that Williams' memo should have "shot up the chain of command"--and that it should have been acted on with speed and urgency. It is said that the recommendations were rejected because FBI officials did not want to appear to be "racially profiling" Arab immigrants.

The lesson now is supposed to be that police must be allowed to spy based on people's political and religious beliefs, nationality, and vague "suspicions." All this new praise for "racial profiling" is a perfect example of "reversing correct verdicts." It is ridiculous for them to act like the police ever really stopped racist "profiling." And doubly ridiculous to charge that the "politically correct" concerns over profiling caused the 9/11 attacks. They are demanding that no one dare to criticize the police--for their methods, or their snooping, or their racism, or their arrogant powers--because such critics will be causing any future attacks in the U.S.

Question : If they get away with their call for a public embrace of racial profiling, how many more thousands of kids will now be fingered and humiliated for nothing but their "profile"? How many more Black and Latino motorists will now be stopped on the highways? And what further madness and injustice will now descend on the Arab and Muslim communities across the U.S.?

Question: Doesn't all this talk about "police hampered by political correctness and out-dated rules" simply mean "you must give up previous legal standards regarding privacy, personal legal protections and political rights"?

Question : Is there any name for a society that unleashes national witchhunts and dragnets based on anti-government statements--other than "police state"?

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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