News Release

FBI Powers: Legal Analysts Sound Warning


Some legal experts are criticizing the decision announced Thursday by Attorney General John Ashcroft to modify existing guidelines that govern FBI intelligence, foreign counter-intelligence investigations and domestic security terrorism investigations. Among those available for interviews:

President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Ratner said today: “The current Guidelines were established in the ’70s and early ’80s after it was demonstrated that the FBI was spying upon and disrupting groups and individuals engaged in lawful dissent. Apparently, Attorney General Ashcroft wants to get the FBI back in the business of spying on religious and political organizations. That alone would be unconstitutional but history suggests the FBI won’t stop at passive information-gathering. We fear a return to the days of Cointelpro. By its own terms, Cointelpro — a widespread domestic spying operation whose best-known target was Martin Luther King Jr. — was designed to ‘misdirect, discredit, disrupt and otherwise neutralize’ political and activist groups. Under its auspices, the FBI and local authorities went far beyond passive surveillance, harassing a vast number of protest groups, infiltrated them with provocateurs, devised and implemented disinformation campaigns…. Even with the Attorney General’s Guidelines in place, the FBI has abused its powers. In 1987 CCR exposed the widespread spying that was directed against activists opposed to U.S. policy in Central America. Known as the CISPES investigation, the bureau kept files on lawful dissenters across the country and placed informants in peace groups in an effort to dampen opposition to U.S. policy.”
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Associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Cohn said today: “The FBI is reinventing itself by resurrecting a counter-intelligence program similar to the dreaded Cointelpro, which was eliminated by Congress after the FBI used it to abuse civil liberties in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. In response to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement in the movement to register African-Americans to vote, the FBI undertook an aggressive smear campaign to discredit and destroy him. Saying that Dr. King ‘represented a clear threat to the established order of the U.S.,’ the FBI wiretapped his telephones and hotel rooms and obtained highly personal information it used to try to wreck his marriage, drive him to suicide, and discredit him in the eyes of the U.S. government, the religious community, and foreign governments. Now, as the result of the FBI’s incompetence in analyzing information that was already available under pre-existing guidelines before Sept. 11, the Justice Department has promulgated new rules, giving the FBI wide latitude to spy on Internet communications, libraries, political and religious organizations without probable cause. This ominous new development in the war on terrorism threatens the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167