By William Fisher
The FBI’s recent raids on the homes and offices of Minneapolis and Chicago activists are being viewed by civil libertarians as further proof that the U.S. is morphing into a “surveillance state” where the right to privacy and other Constitutional protections are being quietly whittled away.
Last Friday morning agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided the Minneapolis homes of five antiwar activists, the office of a Minneapolis antiwar organization, and the Chicago homes of the head of an Arab-American organization and a prominent peace activist.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper reported that the raids were part of a probe of "activities concerning the material support of terrorism." No one was arrested in any of the raids.
FBI spokesman Steve Warfield told the newspaper that the searches were conducted at about 7 a.m. Lawyers said the agents seized computers, cell phones and documents in the protesters' homes.
The outrage of the civil liberties community was summed up by Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
Pitts told IPS, “The continued shocking harassment of peaceful anti-war, environmental, and other activists and dissidents under the Obama administration in this and other recent cases -- such as those highlighted in the DoJ Inspector General’s recent report -- is inexcusable and must stop.”
He said these actions “illegally deter future as well as current dissent, impoverish the marketplace of ideas, discourage rather than support the informed exercise by citizens of their duties, and make bad governance and decision-making more rather than less likely.”
He added: “This once again highlights the urgency for folks of all parties, ages, and viewpoints to join the civil liberties community in efforts to resist the growing surveillance state and restore the usual constitutional requirements for individualized suspicion that has been watered down by the Patriot Act and similar laws enacted in the post-9/11 climate of politically manipulated fear.”
Protest leaders are quoted by the Minneapolis newspaper as saying the raids “surprised them.” One of the targets, Mick Kelly, whose home was searched, played a central role in the 2008 demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Asked by the Star Tribune if he was involved in illegal activities, he replied, "Absolutely not.''
The newspaper said Ted Dooley, Kelly's attorney, called the raids "a probe into the political beliefs of American citizens and any organization anywhere that opposes the American imperial design." He said the warrants cited a federal law making it a violation to provide or conspire to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.
The warrants were said to have focused on terrorist groups in the Palestinian territories and Colombia.
Subpoenas were issued to the activists to appear before a federal grand jury next month in Chicago. Raids also were conducted on two homes in Chicago, and grand jury subpoenas were issued in Michigan and North Carolina.
Attorney Bruce Nestor, who frequently represents the activists, told the Star Tribune that the FBI seemed to focus on allegations of support for foreign organizations designated as terrorist by executive order of the president.
"There is no process whereby you can contest the designation," he said. "Ever since these laws were passed in 1996, there is a concern that they reach so broadly as to certainly chill or intimidate people in speaking out on foreign policy or support for groups that oppose U.S. foreign policy."
Following the raids, anti-war and similar organizations began to strategize their response. Last Friday night, the Star Tribune reported that more than 100 people gathered at Walker Community United Methodist Church in Minneapolis to sign statements of solidarity with those whose homes were raided and to make plans for further protests.
"We refuse to let the accusations of a notoriously untruthful, repressive government divide us in any way," read the statement in the Star Tribune. "Our struggle will continue."
Word of the raids also sent a ripple throughout Chicago activist circles. The Chicago Tribune reported that one group of anti-war activists in Chicago called an "emergency meeting" on Chicago's South Side on Sunday to plan demonstrations and rallies for Monday and Tuesday.
"These raids are an attack on the entire anti-war movement," said Maureen Murphy, a member of the Palestine Solidarity Group in Chicago. "Everyone in peace and social justice is deeply concerned."
The anti-war activists targeted by FBI agents with search warrants Friday said they did nothing wrong, voicing resolve at a West Side rally today to continue opposing U.S. policy in the Middle East and South America.
Meanwhile, in a separate development , the New York Times reported this morning that the Obama administration is drawing up legislation to make it easier for US intelligence services to eavesdrop on the Internet, including email exchanges and social networks.
The White House intends to submit a bill before Congress next year that would require all online services that enable communications to be technically capable of complying with a wiretap order, including being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages, the Times reported.
The services would include encrypted email transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking websites like Facebook and peer-to-peer messaging software like Skype.