by Eric Ture Muhammad
(FinalCall.com)—New Federal Bureau of Investigation terrorism
guidelines that allow agents to monitor religious services, political
organizations, and public meetings of Americans and non-citizens drew
sharp criticism from some politicians, civil libertarians and activists.
The new rules announced May 30 by U.S. Attorney General John D.
Ashcroft represent a loosening of restrictions placed on the agency in
the 1970s as a result of the late FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s
Counter-Intelligence Program against Black Power leaders, civil rights
groups, leftist organizations and anti-war activists. COINTELPRO, a
domestic covert operation, used informants, agent’s provocateurs, secret
surveillance, and smear tactics to foment violence and distrust, disrupt
and destroy voices of political dissent.
The "new FBI" rules, according to the attorney general, will allow
agents to enter public places to detect or prevent terrorist activities.
Agents are also free to visit Internet websites, libraries, mosques,
churches and political organizations to "pre-empt" terrorist strikes in
The Ashcroft guidelines came a day after FBI Director Robert Mueller
unveiled reorganization plans to focus the FBI on the so-called war on
While some praised the Bush administration for extending surveillance
powers, critics say the war on terrorism is now a war on freedom,
dissent and a secret war against religion, particularly against Islam,
Muslims and Arab Americans.
Many also suspect the rules are designed to mask U.S. intelligence
failures in light of post-Sept. 11 evidence that the FBI and White House
failed to properly process information concerning potential terror
attacks at home.
"The administration’s continued defiance of constitutional safeguards
seems to have no end in sight," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), of
the House Judiciary Committee.
"This decision decimates the Fourth Amendment. The Justice Department
is intent on another power grab when it has become clear that a lack of
competence—not law enforcement authorities—prevented the administration
from connecting the dots before Sept. 11," charged the Black lawmaker.
Mr. Conyers wants the White House to halt efforts to expand surveillance
authority and consult Congress before further intrusions on civil
"Any government effort to institutionalize the same powers that
allowed the FBI to wrongfully spy on the activities of the civil rights
organizations and disclose information on the private affairs of Martin
Luther King, Jr. would constitute an embarrassing step backwards for
civil liberties in this country," Rep. Conyers warned.
Threats to religious freedom emerged with these new policies,
constituting "a war on freedom, not a war on terror," he said.
New rules to wiretap religious organizations and places of worship
will further alienate the American Muslim community, Rep. Conyers said.
These are not changes in law, or changes in constitutional rights,
but changes in procedures designed for the 1970s to meet challenges of
the year 2002 and beyond, countered Atty. General Ashcroft, speaking
June 2 on CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.
It’s strange that allowing the FBI to search bomb-making websites is
seen as a violation of individual rights, Mr. Ashcroft said. He said old
procedures prohibited FBI agents from surfing the web for such sites,
unless there was evidence of a crime. These types of rules needed to be
revamped, said Mr. Ashcroft.
The new regulations also admonish against keeping dossiers on public
officials, cultural and religious leaders and current privacy laws
reinforce safeguards against old abuses, but do not tie the hands of
agents, the attorney general said.
The changes within the FBI include:
- Establishing an Office of Intelligence to coordinate intelligence
- Permanently shifting resources to counterterrorism, including
expanding the Counterterrorism Team to more than 3,700 FBI Agents/Joint
Terrorism Task Force resources.
- Building a national terrorism response capability ("flying squads")
to be deployed temporarily from headquarters to address terrorist
threats and incidents around the country.
- Upgrading analytical capabilities by establishing a new Espionage
Section in the Counterintelligence Division and improving recruitment,
training, technology, and career opportunities for analysts.
- Establishing a "Cyber Division" to address threats to the American
high technology infrastructure.
- Strategically managing resources to maintain appropriate involvement
in traditional law enforcement, such as drug crimes involving violence
or public corruption and other criminal activity that may also
constitute state crime.
"The government is rewarding failure," said Laura W. Murphy, director
of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C.
"When the government fails—as it increasingly appears to have done
before Sept. 11—the Bush administration’s response is to give itself new
powers rather than seriously investigating why the failures occurred,"
The FBI reorganization follows scathing allegations in a May 21 memo
from veteran Minnesota FBI agent Coleen Rowley, sent to Mr. Mueller,
charging FBI headquarters in Washington hindered efforts by the
Minneapolis office to investigate suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui,
a Black, French-born flight school student.
Mr. Moussaoui was arrested on an immigration charge about three weeks
before the Sept. 11 attacks, but authorities said they believe he was
the intended "20th hijacker." Mr. Moussaoui has been charged with six
conspiracy counts in connection with the hijackings and is on trial for
his life in a Virginia federal court. Ms. Rowley’s memo charged the
agency’s leadership with "a delicate and subtle shading/skewing of
facts" that continues in "a rush to judgment to protect the FBI at all
"The sweeping draconian surveillance powers have been initiated as a
result of one man’s (Attorney General Ashcroft’s) abuse of rule-making
authority," said researcher and activist Steve Cokely, in a telephone
interview from his Los Angeles office.
"The last attorney general to unilaterally abuse authority was
William French Smith, who served under former President Ronald Reagan,
who drew ‘rules’ authorizing the Los Angeles police force in South
Central to sell narcotics as a part of the Iran-Contra Affair," he said.
"The FBI throughout the decades has attacked Black
organizations—particularly Muslim—consistently. To suggest that a mosque
should be surveyed without indicator of criminal activity results in
preferential treatment for particular religious groups," Mr. Cokely
"Did the FBI survey all Catholic churches? It is the Catholic Church
who supported the Irish Republic Army’s (IRA) efforts in England. We
must close ranks against ‘NOW-INTELPRO,’ and not allow any disagreement
amongst any of us to serve as shelter for the hatred of government
officials," he added.
Bush defends FBI changes
President George Bush defended the FBI policy changes, saying reform
is necessary and protects civil liberties. "We intend to honor our
Constitution and respect the freedoms that we hold so dear,’’ the
president said. "Our most important job is to protect America. And the
initiative that the attorney general (outlined) will guarantee our
Constitution," Mr. Bush said.
The changes allow the FBI to use commercial data mining services and
engage in online research, even when it isn’t linked to an individual
The guidelines will also push decision-making for an array of
investigative steps away from FBI headquarters and down to field offices
around the country. Special agents in charge of each office will hold
keys to setting investigative steps in motion.
"The FBI now wants to purchase data from commercial enterprises.
Thus, any time you write a check, use a credit card, buy something on
credit, make department store purchases, surf the web, use an e-z pass
to buy gasoline or pay a toll, the FBI may be permitted, under the new
guidelines, to purchase this information to build a profile on you,"
said Marvin J. Johnson, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "This information is
used to target consumers for products they have no interest in
receiving. Should it be relied upon to open a terrorism investigation of
a person that could change his or her life?" he asked.
Jason Erb, governmental affairs director for the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, said Americans support the investigation of
terrorists or those who are suspected of planning terrorist acts. Anyone
having information about such attacks should immediately contact the
FBI, Mr. Erb said. "But America must not respond to past intelligence
failures by adopting a ‘round up the usual suspects’ approach to
counterterrorism," he said, in a statement.
"Remember when President Reagan rallied for the tearing down of the
Berlin Wall and the reform of the Soviet Union? It was then Soviet
President Gorbachev who said, that there will always be this kind of
totalitarian police state and that as Russia became more like America,
America will become more like Russia," said former FBI agent Dr. Tyrone
Powers in a telephone interview with The Final Call from his
office at Anne Arundel College in Maryland.
Mr. Powers, director of the Institute of Criminal Justice, Legal
Research and Public Studies, said prior to 9-11, Mr. Ashcroft was
already seeking to expand the surveillance powers of the Bureau and that
Sept. 11 gave him the license to do it.
"Remember, Ashcroft brought Mueller in as director, a former
assistant district attorney given the task of reforming an agency that
has been in existence since 1909, to deal with counterterrorism and do
it within a few months. Mueller has never taken a class on
counterterrorism, let alone counterintelligence. Ashcroft brought
someone in with absolutely no experience so that he could in fact run
the FBI solidly from the attorney general’s office," he charged. Mr.
Powers said the new guidelines are of particular detriment to Blacks and
Black organizations because the agents and informants recruited to
perform these tasks will primarily be placed in Black communities, which
are already divided "and will be divided even further trying to figure
out who they can trust," he said.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller (L) thanks
Attorney General John Ashcroft for his statement as they make a joint
announcement for a new FBI strategic focus at the FBI headquarters May
29 in Washington, D.C. Mr. Mueller announced that hundreds of agents
would be reassigned from drug enforcement and white collar crime units
to fight terrorism. Photo: AFP