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The ACLU has obtained additional documents from its Freedom of Information Act Request that sheds new light on the actions of Denver police working with the FBI Terrorism Task Force. The Denver Post reports:
Denver police may have violated the city’s “spy files” agreement when they teamed with federal agents who interrogated local activists about possible criminal threats to the 2004 Republican National Convention and the presidential election, according to FBI documents released Tuesday.
The documents show that Denver Police conducted “pretext interviews” of Denver activists before the Republican Convention. Essentially, they were on a fishing expedition.
“It’s absolutely clear now that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the one right here in Denver, is collecting information about peaceful political activity that has nothing to do with terrorism,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado. “And the question is, what is the role of the Denver officers?”
The ACLU has issued this press release about the new documents.
In Colorado, one memo indicates an ongoing federal interest in Food Not Bombs, a group that provides free vegetarian food to hungry people and protests war and poverty. The same memo suggests that an FBI interview of Sarah Bardwell and call to Scott Silber prior to last fall’s political conventions were intended as a means of intimidation. The FBI notes that although they did not obtain information about criminal activity from either student, it was unnecessary to contact others in the area as the “purpose of the interviews was served.â€?
“The FBI is taking tax dollars and resources established to fight terrorism and instead spying on innocent Americans who have done nothing more than speak out or practice their faith,” [ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann] Beeson said. “By recruiting the local police into these activities, they are also sowing dissent and suspicion in communities around the country.”
All of the ACLU’s “Spy Files” materials are accessible here, although some links appear to be outdated.
The Washington Post also reports on the new document disclosures and quotes Sarah Bardwell as saying she hadn’t intended to go to either political convention and neither she nor the other activists consented to the interviews. Bardwell told the Denver Post,
“The FBI thinks it has a right to invade people’s lives and spy on them, not because they are a threat to the American people but because they are using their constitutional rights to oppose the government,” Bardwell said.
The ACLU says it will file additional lawsuits to obtain more documents. The outcome is important because we need to make sure that law enforcement is not allowed to target lawful political dissent under the guise of fighting terrorism.