Oregon Joins Nationwide ACLU Effort to Expose Illegal FBI Spying on Political and Religious Groups

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
December 2, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of Oregon
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PORTLAND, OR – Citing evidence that the FBI and local police are illegally spying on political, environmental and faith-based groups elsewhere in the country, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Portland Division of the FBI that is designed to uncover whether political and religious spying is also occurring here in Oregon.

“It is now beyond dispute that FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces have been used to systematically spy on the lawful political and religious activities of individuals and organizations,” said Oregon ACLU Executive Director David Fidanque. “Unfortunately, most of this activity has occurred under a cloak of secrecy so we don’t know how much of it is occurring in Oregon.”

The Oregon request is one of nearly a dozen FOIA requests filed around the country today by the National ACLU and its affiliates seeking information about the FBI’s use of Joint Terrorism Task Forces and local police to engage in political surveillance.

“The FBI is wasting its time and our tax dollars spying on groups that criticize the government, like the Quakers in Colorado or Catholic Peace Ministries in Iowa,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson. “Do Americans really want to return to the days when peaceful critics become the subject of government investigations?”

All of the FOIAs seek information on the actual FBI files of groups and individuals suspected of being targeted by the FBI for speaking out or practicing their faith. In addition, National ACLU has filed a separate request seeking information about how the practices and funding structure of the FBI task forces, known as JTTFs, are encouraging rampant and unwarranted spying.

Fidanque noted that Oregon law prohibits state and local police from collecting or maintaining files on the political, religious or social activities of individuals or organizations unless there is evidence of criminal activity.

“We have been working for several years to shed more light on the practices of the FBI’s Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI has stonewalled us and local public officials who have asked questions,” Fidanque said. “The FBI has denied it is targeting people because of their political or religious views, but they refuse to allow any civilian authorities, such as the Portland City Attorney, to have access to their work or files. The public has a right to know whether the types of abuses we’ve seen elsewhere are also happening in Oregon.”

Fidanque said that renewal of the City of Portland’s participation in the local FBI JTTF will be considered by the Portland City Council on December 22. He said that ACLU has asked for expedited consideration of its FOIA request.

Among the organizations included in the Oregon ACLU request are Portland Peace and Justice Works, the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, the Oregon Wildlife Federation, the American Friends Service Committee, In Defense of Animals, the Islamic Center of Portland and the ACLU of Oregon itself.

In addition to the Oregon and National ACLU FOIA requests, ACLU affiliates in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan have filed similar requests. Additional ACLU affiliates are expected to file another round of FOIA requests in early 2005.

Over the past few years, ACLU attorneys around the country have provided direct representation to many individuals and organizations targeted for exercising their First Amendment right to criticize the government, including people who participated in numerous rallies and marches to protest the war in Iraq, who were excluded from meaningful participation at public presidential speeches, and who protested at the 2004 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

“We all want police to protect us from real criminals and terrorists,” Beeson said. “But resources and funds established to fight terrorism should not be misused to target innocent Americans who have done nothing more than speak out or practice their faith. Investigations should be based on actual evidence of wrongdoing.”

In its FOIA requests, the ACLU points to many documented examples of JTTF involvement in the investigation of environmental activists, anti-war protesters, and others who are clearly not terrorists nor involved in terrorist activities, including:

  • tracking down parents of student peace activists
  • downloading anti-war action alerts from Catholic Peace Ministries
  • infiltrating student groups
  • sending undercover agents to National Lawyers Guild meetings
  • aggressively questioning Muslims and Arabs on the basis of religion or national origin rather than suspicion of wrongdoing

These activities are not the only evidence that the FBI is building files on activists. A classified FBI intelligence memorandum disclosed publicly last November revealed that the FBI has actually directed police to target and monitor lawful political demonstrations under the rubric of fighting terrorism. See /node/22704.

For details and documents regarding the FOIA requests filed today by ACLU affiliates around the country, including a list of clients, go to www.aclu.org/spyfiles

More information on the Oregon ACLU FOIA request can be found at: www.aclu-or.org.

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