DOJ report criticizes FBI for domestic advocacy group probes

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) [official website] released a report [text, PDF] Monday absolving the FBI [official website] of charges that agents conducted investigations of domestic groups based on their exercise of First Amendment [text] rights. The report criticizes the FBI [Washington Post report] for beginning investigations on weak factual predicates, continuing investigations longer than necessary, inappropriately retaining information on file and misclassifying investigations, and probing issues of state, rather than federal, law. The FBI reportedly monitored the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice, an anti-war activist organization based in Pittsburgh, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and Greenpeace USA [advocacy websites]. Additionally, the report indicates that Greenpeace advocates were inappropriately added to the terrorist watch list. In a response included in the report, FBI Deputy Director Timothy Murphy [official profile] states that the FBI is "pleased that the Report concludes that the FBI did not target any groups for investigation on the basis of First Amendment activities." Additionally, Murphy said the FBI "regrets that inaccurate information was provided" to Director Robert Mueller [official profile], which he subsequently presented to Congress. During a 2006 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], Mueller refused to answer questions [Mueller statement; JURIST report] about the administration's domestic spying program [JURIST news archive], saying the information was classified.

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] reported that there have been more than 100 incidents of political surveillance [report, PDF; JURIST report] and harassment by authorities in 33 states since 9/11 [JURIST news archive]. Earlier in June, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled that the city of New York could withhold documents related to surveillance practices [JURIST report] that led to the arrest of 1,800 protesters during the convention. The court found that the documents needed to remain confidential because their release could compromise future surveillance efforts. In 2006, the FBI monitored gatherings organized by the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice, according to documents [ACLU backgrounder; JURIST report] released by the ACLU. The ACLU contended that the FBI based its investigation solely on the organization's political views, particularly its opposition to the war in Iraq. In addition to the documents released by the ACLU, an FBI report also indicated that agents photographed members of the Thomas Merton Center during a November 2002 gathering, during which members handed out leaflets opposing the war in Iraq. In the wake of a lawsuit from groups including the ACLU and Greenpeace, the DOJ admitted in 2005 that the FBI has thousands of pages of records on file [JURIST report] scrutinizing US civil rights, environmental and other advocacy groups.

 

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