Shahid Buttar is a friend and executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC). These are two excerpts from his comments on Huffington Post. As you think about these, consider that in order to provide legal representation to an American citizen who, to this point, has not been convicted of any offense against the United States and is not anywhere near either Iraq or Afghanistan, permission was required from the Treasury Department (which gave it under threat of a law suit) which can grant that permission or deny it in its sole discretion. This is not how our Constitution and laws are supposed to work.
President Eisenhower warned 50 years ago that national security could undermine democracy by subverting popular policy preferences. His warning was prescient. In the 1960s, the FBI pursued a concerted campaign to undermine the civil rights movement by criminalizing groups, like the NAACP, pursuing peaceful political activities protected by the First Amendment.
This is no conspiracy theory: Congress documented wanton FBI abuses in over 14,000 pages of testimony. According to the Church committee, the FBI’s activities then
would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that…the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights….
Revelations of the FBI’s “COINTELPRO” (counter-intelligence program) prompted a national outrage that forced the Department of Justice to enact limits in 1976 curtailing the Bureau’s various abuses. Today, these problems are back.
This bears repetition: the FBI currently conducts monitoring and surveillance operations based on neither evidence nor suspicion. Think about that for a moment.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” and specifically requires judicially authorized warrants based on “probable cause” that “particularly describe the place to be searched.” For centuries, courts have interpreted the Fourth Amendment to require individualized suspicion for searches. Mueller’s testimony confirms that no requirement for suspicion at all (not even suspicion impermissibly based on association or race) currently constrains agents from monitoring law-abiding Americans.
The Bureau has engaged in political spying for nearly a decade, infiltrating peaceful activist groups and suppressing dissent in the name of disingenuous national security. Nor has the Bureau carefully limited its targets: “[f]aith institutions, activist groups advocating for causes as varied as pro-life and pro-choice stances on reproductive rights, environmental causes…and animal rights have all been affected.”
Worse yet, the Bureau’s standard for undercover activities is known neither by the public nor Congress. I wrote a FOIA request that led to the FBI’s disclosure of part of its policy, but the section on undercover infiltration remains secret. Intelligence agencies may justifiably pursue clandestine activities, but should not operate according to secret rules–at least not in countries that claim to lead the free world.
What little transparency we have confirms fears of abuse. In at least three separate reports (in 2007, 2008 and 2010) over the last four years, the Justice Department’s Inspector General has documented rampant abuse of powers that the FBI received through the PATRIOT Act–as well as further abuse of entirely new powers invented by the FBI with the support of the Obama administration.
The Bureau has received a free pass long enough. As a civil rights coalition argued to the Senate this week, “Congress should not grant the FBI guidelines artificial legitimacy, nor should the Bureau be afforded credibility that it has not only failed to earn, but actively undermined….As a repeat offender, the Bureau is long overdue for intervention by Congress.” New powers demanded by the FBI should be denied, and as recently demanded by the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the Bureau’s leadership should be replaced.