December 6 2004, 6:00 AM
The ACLU has launched a campaign to end FBI spying on political and religious activists in Colorado and nine other states, as well as the District of Columbia.
As a first step, the ACLU and its state affiliates have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in 10 states and the District of Columbia. We have evidence that the FBI and local police - working through so-called Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) - are spying on environmental, anti-war, political, and faith-based groups. We think the public deserves to know more about who is being investigated and why.The Freedom of Information Act requests seek access to the FBI files of those investigated for religious or political views. They also seek information on Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which "are encouraging rampant and unwarranted spying." There are 66 such task forces in the U.S., comprised of FBI agents and local law enforcement agents. Denver's task force is headed up by Denver Police Detective Tom Fisher.
In 2003, Denver doubled its contribution to the JTTF by assigning Denver police detective Stephen MacKenna to work full-time for the FBI. Detective Donald Estep of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office is also assigned to the Denver JTTF. The Aurora Police Department, the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, and the Colorado State Patrol also contribute personnel to the Denver JTTF.This week the Colorado chapter of the ACLU has filed FOIA requests on behalf of 16 organizations and 10 individuals, all of whom reportedly have documentary evidence to support their claims of unlawful spying:
"The FBI is collecting information about nonviolent protesters and law abiding organizations whose issues are as varied as animal rights, protection of the environment, labor rights, United States military policies, social and economic justice in Latin America, and the treatment of Native Americans," said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. "Their advocacy and expressive activities have nothing to do with terrorism." "This evidence of political surveillance raises questions whether the FBI's anti-terrorism unit unjustifiably regards dissent or criticism of government policies as potential terrorist activity," Silverstein said. "That poses a tremendous risk of chilling individuals and organizations from taking part in the free exchange of viewpoints that is the basis for our democracy. We don't want to go back to the era of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, when Americans feared that speaking out would result in an FBI dossier."The documentary evidence can be viewed at the Denver spy files site. Examples of intrusions by the JTTF include recording license plate numbers of peaceful activists in Colorado Springs; reporting on the activities of a person who distributed flyers for a film critical of the FBI; and intercepting e-mail of animal rights' groups. You can view the list of ACLU clients here.