Updated August 28, 2004

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Ashcroft Defends Domestic Spying On Dissidents

Ashcroft Defends Domestic Spying On Dissidents

Civil Liberties Groups Outraged Over Justice Dep’t Efforts to Squelch Political Dissent


By John Tiffany


FBI agents have triggered controversy by “interviewing” and shadowing political activists around the nation in recent weeks. Civil liberties advocates charge it is part of a government campaign to intimidate and silence protesters who are expected to turn out for the Republican National Convention in New York beginning Aug. 30.

On Aug. 20, Attorney General John Ashcroft defended the FBI harassment at a press conference. Ashcroft claimed agents questioned only individuals the government believed were plotting to firebomb media vehicles or who might have known about such plots.

Scoffed Rachael Perrotta, one of the protesters interviewed by the feds: “They don’t want activists getting their message out. I think it’s a smear campaign by the government to discredit the protest movement.”

Perrotta is managing media coverage for an antiwar, anti-Bush march from Boston to New York called “DNC2RNC,” which began after the Democratic convention.

“I am a media relations coordinator. The thought that I would be involved in anything like this is just so preposterous,” said Perrotta.

Perrotta said she never heard any political activists talk about using molotov cocktails or other bombs. “This includes anarchist groups and liberal groups,” she said. She accused the FBI of “spreading a lie.”

No groups have threatened to use bombs or any other weapons at the Republican Convention. Authorities anticipate that hundreds of thousands of protesters will descend upon the city.

“This sounds like classic fear-mongering by law enforcement on the eve of a major protest,” said Bill Dobbs, spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, a national coalition of more than 800 antiwar groups whose 250,000 members plan to march across New York on Aug. 29.

Other activists questioned Ashcroft’s assertion that the FBI interviewed only a “handful” of protesters. Ann Beeson, associate legal director of American Civil Liberties Union, said she knew of dozens of interrogations in Colorado alone, with more in Missouri, New York and Massachusetts.

The FBI activities have gone well beyond “conducting interviews.” Three activists from Missouri were followed by four FBI cars for five days, said Denise Lieberman, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. It “was very intimidating and, I think, done with the intent of frightening them,” she said.

Still others are concerned about agents provocateur in their midst inciting violence.

U.S. law enforcement has a history of infiltrating right-wing and left-wing groups that protest the government. The 1960s COINTELPRO program, run by the FBI, is perhaps the most well-known example of this, whereupon federal agents worked with local law enforcement to infiltrate groups for the purpose of disrupting, discrediting and otherwise neutralizing organizations and individuals.


© American Free Press 2004