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Towards a new COINTELPRO?

Paul O'Hanlon | 18.03.2005 23:44 | Anti-racism | Indymedia | Repression | London

This is a 1,700 word article with 3 photos showing the dangerous erosion of our civil liberties as a result of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security in the USA and the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in Britain.

J Edgar Hoover, FBI Director under 8 Presidents from 1924 to 1972.
J Edgar Hoover, FBI Director under 8 Presidents from 1924 to 1972.

Rumsfeld and Cheney of whom Hoover would no doubt have approved.
Rumsfeld and Cheney of whom Hoover would no doubt have approved.

Homeland Security. Private security and mercenary companies are big business.
Homeland Security. Private security and mercenary companies are big business.

Patriot act –towards a new COINTELPRO?

Gore Vidal puts it well in his book `Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace` when he says: “Once alienated an unalienable right is apt to be forever lost.”
In the same book he reveals that the `Anti-Terrorism ` act of 1996, signed into law by Clinton one year after the Oklahoma City bombing, has been combined with the recent requests to Congress for additional special powers to wiretap without judicial order; to deport lawful permanent residents, visitors, and undocumented immigrants without due process and so on.

Then there is the Patriot Act of 2001 which according the American Civil Liberties union (ACLU):
“Just 45 days after the September 11 attacks, with virtually no debate, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act. Many parts of this sweeping legislation take away checks on law enforcement and threaten the very rights and freedoms that we are struggling to protect. For example, without a warrant and without probable cause, the FBI now has the power to access your most private medical records, your library records, and your student records... and can prevent anyone from telling you it was done.
The Department of Justice is expected to introduce a sequel, dubbed PATRIOT II, that would further erode key freedoms and liberties of every American.”



With the advent of cheap and powerful new technologies, and the ever-increasing collection of data about our activities and our lives, mass surveillance has become easier than ever.

Unfortunately, the threat of terrorism has prompted many Americans to embrace sharp increases in government surveillance over our private lives. Too many people think we can stop terrorism by monitoring all the hundreds of millions of people who live in America, and by removing the legal safeguards that protect us against government spying.
The rush to surveillance is doubly tragic: not only does it threaten our privacy, but it is likely to sap resources from other, more effective measures that actually would make us safer.

The Patriot Act increases the government’s surveillance powers in four areas:
1/ The Patriot Act increases the government’s surveillance powers in four areas:
Records searches. It expands the government's ability to look at records on an individual's activity being held by third parties. (Section 215)

2/Secret searches. It expands the government's ability to search private property without notice to the owner. (Section 213)

3/ Intelligence searches. It expands a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment that had been created for the collection of foreign intelligence information (Section 218).

4/ "Trap and trace" searches. It expands another Fourth Amendment exception for spying that collects "addressing" information about the origin and destination of communications, as opposed to the content (Section 214).

Unchecked power

The result is unchecked government power to rifle through individuals' financial records, medical histories, Internet usage, bookstore purchases, library usage, travel patterns, or any other activity that leaves a record. Making matters worse:
The government no longer has to show evidence that the subjects of search orders are an "agent of a foreign power," a requirement that previously protected Americans against abuse of this authority.
The FBI does not even have to show a reasonable suspicion that the records are related to criminal activity, much less the requirement for "probable cause" that is listed in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. All the government needs to do is make the broad assertion that the request is related to an ongoing terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation.
Judicial oversight of these new powers is essentially non-existent. The government must only certify to a judge - with no need for evidence or proof - that such a search meets the statute's broad criteria, and the judge does not even have the authority to reject the application.

Expansion of the intelligence exception in wiretap law
Under the Patriot Act, the FBI can secretly conduct a physical search or wiretap on American citizens to obtain evidence of crime without proving probable cause, as the Fourth Amendment explicitly requires.

The historical record makes clear that unchecked trust in the government to spy on its citizens responsibly is misplaced. The following examples prove the point.
COINTELPRO: Created out of fear of growing social dissidence and operating under a veil of secrecy, the FBI's infamous Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), created under Director J. Edgar Hoover, harassed and spied on a vast number of peaceful social protest groups. Few members of any of the groups targeted by COINTELPRO were ever charged with a crime.
The high-profile Church Committee in 1976 essentially accused the FBI of thought policing. Referring to the activities of COINTELPRO, the Committee concluded that, "The Government has often undertaken the secret surveillance of citizens on the basis of their political beliefs, even when those beliefs posed no threat of violence or illegal acts on behalf of a hostile foreign power. … Groups and individuals have been harassed and disrupted because of their political views and their lifestyles."
The vast majority of the organizations and individuals targeted for surveillance by the FBI and COINTELPRO were actually avowedly non-violent. One of the most prominent public figures investigated by the FBI and COINTELPRO was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
J. Edgar Hoover kept a detailed and shadowy collection of dossiers on many of the civil rights era's greatest leaders and it was under Hoover's authority that an illegally obtained tape, purporting to document King's extramarital sex life, was sent to Coretta Scott King.
In 1986, a federal court determined that COINTELPRO was responsible for at least 204 burglaries by FBI agents, the use of 1,300 informants, the theft of 12,600 documents, 20,000 illegal wiretap days and 12,000 bug days.

STOP INDEX: The FBI also famously abused its authority during the Vietnam War, operating what it called a "stop index." The Bureau used its National Crime Information Center - comprised of a number of computerized databases - to track and monitor the activities of law-abiding citizens opposed to American involvement in the war.

CONUS: Possibly the most frightening abuse of power by a government actor involved the military's cold war era CONUS (Continental United States) program which expanded its operations in the 1950s and 1960s. In total violation of the American tradition of preventing the armed forces from engaging in law enforcement and domestic surveillance, the U.S. military ran this cloak-and-dagger operation designed to monitor civilian political activity and dissent. CONUS collected and maintained files on upwards of 100,000 political activists and used undercover operatives recruited from the Army to infiltrate these activist groups and steal confidential information and files for distribution to federal, state and local governments.

Homeland Security

Homeland security or Homeland defense is a programme referring to domestic governmental actions justified, or allegedly justified, by potential attacks. The term became prominent in the United States following, although it was used less frequently before that incident.
Such domestic governmental actions include:
Emergency mobilization, including volunteer medical, police, and fire personnel
New domestic surveillance and spying efforts, particularly with respect to immigration, transportation, military installations, and utilities
Secret arrests and detentions
Infrastructure protection
Border control
In the United States, the concept of extends and recombines responsibilities of much of the executive branch, including, , (INS), (now the United States Customs and Border Protection Service), , , and. administration has consolidated these and many other such activities, formerly in, under the, a new Executive Department created for these purposes.

In Britain

Here in Britain The Government is rushing through the new Prevention of Terrorism Bill through the Parliament with unseemly haste. The second reading was completed on Wednesday the 22 Feb. The Committee Stage and the final stages were due to be completed on Monday the 28th Feb 2005.
The Bill abandons the presumption of innocence completely and gives the Home Secretary the executive power to restrict a person’s liberty with a range control orders up to and including house arrests on the basis of suspicion rather than proof. There would be retrospective judicial reviews to confirm the decision. The Home Secretary will rely upon secret intelligence, which may have been obtained through torture by third parties. The accused will not be able to test the case against him in any meaningful way because of the proposed closed court sessions.
The Bill has come under severe criticism from MPs from all parties all human rights and civil liberties organisations. It is only the three-line whip of the Labour party that will secure its passage. The Bill is ill conceived and dangerous and if implemented it would lead to serious human rights violations and erosion of civil liberties.

Charles Clarke’s new proposals for civil ‘control orders’ on ‘terrorist suspects’ would serve political control. They would punish individuals for what they might do, not what they have done. The orders would include electronic tagging, restrictions on association, the use of phones and Internet, and possible house arrest.
Any breach could lead to imprisonment.
The executive nature of such powers would allow for politically motivated restrictions on individuals and their activity. Bob Marshall Andrews MP and QC described the proposals as “the most substantial extension of the state’s executive powers in 300 years.” Reminiscent of Apartheid-era banning orders, they are a measure associated more with dictatorships rather than democracies.

These proposals would require derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights. Even with a court procedure, the orders would amount to preventive detention. This would violate a fundamental principle of justice: the right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

All ‘anti-terror’ measures promote a politics of fear, especially a culture of ‘suspicion’ towards entire communities. The Home Secretary has a dilemma only in attempting to maintain the pretence of a ‘public emergency’, which warrants extraordinary measures. As Lord Hoffman said in his December judgement, however, there is no ‘state of public emergency threatening the life of the nation’ – the only basis for justifying internment, which requires an opt-out from the European Convention on Human Rights.

The government is attempting to continue its fake ‘emergency’, thus justifying further steps towards a police state. The real emergency is the threat to our rights. We must say: Release the detainees! No internment! No house arrest! No politics of fear! No culture of suspicion!

As a practical example of what this could mean there is the story of 1960’s film icon Jean Seberg. Her career was destroyed by Hoover’s COINTELPRO. This is posted as a separate article with photos.

Paul O'Hanlon
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