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The FBI’s Forgotten Criminal Record

By James Bovard | Future of Freedom | August 2017 edition

President Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey on May 9 spurred much of the media and many Democrats to rally around America’s most powerful domestic federal agency. But the FBI has a long record of both deceit and incompetence. Five years ago, Americans learned that the FBI was teaching its agents that “the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.” This has practically been the Bureau’s motif since its creation in 1908.

The bureau was small potatoes until Woodrow Wilson dragged the United States into World War I. In one fell swoop, the number of dangerous Americans increased by perhaps twentyfold. The Espionage Act of 1917 made it easy to jail anyone who criticized the war or the government. In September 1918, the bureau, working with local police and private vigilantes, seized more than 50,000 suspected draft dodgers off the streets and out of the restaurants of New York, Newark, and Jersey City. The Justice Department was disgraced when the vast majority of young men who had been arrested turned out to be innocent.

In January 1920, J. Edgar Hoover — the 25-year-old chief of the bureau’s Radical Division — was the point man for the “Palmer Raids.” Nearly 10,000 suspected Reds and radicals were seized. The bureau carefully avoided keeping an accurate count of detainees (a similar pattern of negligence occurred with the roundups after the 9/11 attacks). Attorney General Mitchell Palmer sought to use the massive roundups to propel his presidential candidacy. The operation took a drubbing, however, after an insolent judge demanded that the Justice Department provide evidence for why people had been arrested. Federal judge George Anderson complained that the government had created a “spy system” that “destroys trust and confidence and propagates hate. A mob is a mob whether made up of government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or of criminals, loafers, and the vicious classes.”

After the debacle of the Palmer raids, the bureau devoted its attention to the nation’s real enemies: the U.S. Congress. The bureau targeted “senators whom the Attorney General saw as threats to America. The Bureau was breaking into their offices and homes, intercepting their mail, and tapping their telephones,” as Tim Weiner recounted in his 2012 book Enemies: The History of the FBI. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was illegally targeted because the bureau feared he might support diplomatic recognition of Soviet Russia.

Hoover, who ran the FBI from 1924 until his death in 1972, built a revered agency that utterly intimidated official Washington. The FBI tapped the home telephone of a Supreme Court clerk, and at least one Supreme Court Justice feared the FBI had bugged the conference room where justices privately discussed cases. In 1945, President Harry Truman wrote in his diary, “We want no Gestapo or Secret Police. FBI is tending in that direction…. This must stop.” But Truman did not have the gumption to pull in the reins.

The bureau’s power soared after Congress passed the Internal Security Act of 1950, authorizing massive crackdowns on suspected subversives. Hoover compiled a list of more than 20,000 “potentially or actually dangerous” Americans who could be seized and locked away at the president’s command. Hoover specified that “the hearing procedure [for detentions] will not be bound by the rules of evidence.” “Congress secretly financed the creation of six of these [detention] camps in the 1950s,” noted Weiner. (When rumors began circulating in the 1990s that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was building detention camps, government officials and much of the media scoffed that such a thing could never occur in this nation.)

From 1956 through 1971, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program conducted thousands of covert operations to incite street warfare between violent groups, to get people fired, to portray innocent people as government informants, and to cripple or destroy left-wing, black, communist, white racist, and anti-war organizations. FBI agents also busied themselves forging “poison pen” letters to wreck activists’ marriages. The FBI set up a Ghetto Informant Program that continued after COINTELPRO and that had 7,402 informants, including proprietors of candy stores and barbershops, as of September 1972. The informants served as “listening posts” “to identify extremists passing through or locating in the ghetto area, to identify purveyors of extremist literature,” and to keep an eye on “Afro-American type bookstores” (including obtaining the names of the bookstores’ “clientele”).

The FBI let no corner of American life escape its vigilance; it even worked to expose and discredit “communists who are secretly operating in legitimate organizations and employments, such as the Young Men’s Christian Association and Boy Scouts,” as a 1976 Senate report noted. The FBI took a shotgun approach to target and harass protesters partly because of its “belief that dissident speech and association should be prevented because they were incipient steps toward the possible ultimate commission of an act which might be criminal,” the Senate report observed. That report characterized COINTELPRO as “a secret war against those citizens [the FBI] considers threats to the established order.” COINTELPRO was exposed only after a handful of activists burglarized an FBI office in a Philadelphia suburb, seized FBI files, and leaked the damning documents to the media. The revelations were briefly shocking but faded into the Washington Memory Hole.

FBI haughtiness was showcased on national television on April 19, 1993, when its agents used 54-ton tanks to smash into the Branch Davidians’ sprawling, ramshackle home near Waco, Texas. The tanks intentionally collapsed 25 percent of the building on top of the huddled residents. After the FBI pumped the building full of CS gas (banned for use on enemy soldiers by a chemical-weapons treaty), a fire ignited that left 80 children, women, and men dead. The FBI swore it was not to blame for the conflagration. However, FBI agents had stopped firetrucks from a local fire department far from the burning building, claiming it was not safe to allow them any closer because the Davidians might shoot people dousing a fire that was killing them. Six years after the assault, news leaked that the FBI had fired incendiary tear-gas cartridges into the Davidians’ home prior to the fire’s erupting. Attorney General Janet Reno, furious over the FBI’s deceit on this key issue, sent U.S. marshals to raid FBI headquarters to search for more Waco evidence. From start to finish, the FBI brazenly lied about what it did at Waco — with one exception. On the day after the Waco fire, FBI on-scene commander Larry Potts explained the rationale for the FBI’s final assault: “These people  had thumbed their nose at law enforcement.”

Terrorism

FBI counterterrorism spending soared in the mid to late 1990s. But the FBI dismally failed to connect the dots on suspicious foreigners engaged in domestic aviation training prior to the 9/11 attacks. Though Congress had deluged the FBI with almost $2 billion to upgrade its computers, many FBI agents had ancient machines incapable of searching the web. One FBI agent observed that the bureau ethos is that “real men don’t type…. The computer revolution just passed us by.” The FBI’s pre–9/11 blunders “contributed to the United States becoming, in effect, a sanctuary for radical terrorists,” according to a 2002 congressional investigation. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft groused that “the safest place in the world for a terrorist to be is inside the United States; as long as they don’t do something that trips them up against our laws, they can do pretty much all they want.” Sen. Richard Shelby in 2002 derided “the FBI’s dismal recent history of disorganization and institutional incompetence in its national security work.” (The FBI also lost track of a key informant at the heart of the cabal that detonated a truck bomb beneath the World Trade Center in 1993.)

The FBI has long relied on entrapment to boost its arrest statistics and publicity bombardments. The FBI Academy taught agents that subjects of FBI investigations “have forfeited their right to the truth.” After 9/11, this doctrine helped the agency to entrap legions of patsies who made the FBI appear to be protecting the nation. Trevor Aaronson, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, estimated that only about 1 percent of the 500 people charged with international terrorism offenses in the decade after 9/11 were bona fide threats. Thirty times as many were induced by the FBI to behave in ways that prompted their arrest.

In the Liberty City 7 case in Florida, FBI informants planted the notion of blowing up government buildings. In one case, a federal judge concluded that the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles” in order to make a “terrorist” out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”

The FBI’s informant program extended far beyond Muslims. The FBI bankrolled a right-wing New Jersey blogger and radio host for five years prior to his 2009 arrest for threatening federal judges. We have no idea how many bloggers, talk-show hosts, or activists the FBI is currently financing.

The FBI’s power has rarely been effectively curbed by either Congress or federal courts. In 1971, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs declared that the FBI’s power terrified Capitol Hill: “Our very fear of speaking out [against the FBI] … has watered the roots and hastened the growth of a vine of tyranny…. Our society cannot survive a planned and programmed fear of its own government bureaus and agencies.” Boggs vindicated a 1924 American Civil Liberties Union report warning that the FBI had become “a secret police system of a political character” — a charge that supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would have cheered last year.

The FBI has always used its “good guy” image to keep a lid on its crimes. The controversy swirling about Comey’s firing should spur the American people, media, and Congress to take the FBI off its pedestal and place it where it belongs — under the law. It is time to cease venerating a federal agency whose abuses have perennially menaced Americans’ constitutional rights. Otherwise, the FBI’s vast power and pervasive secrecy guarantee that more FBI scandals are just around the bend.

October 24, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

If David Petraeus is actually charged, all of DC will finally find out how incredibly unjust the Espionage Act is

By Trevor Timm | Freedom of the Press Foundation | January 9, 2015

In a surprising development, the New York Times reported late Friday that the FBI and Justice Department have recommended felony charges against ex-CIA director David Petraeus for leaking classified information to his former biographer and mistress Paula Broadwell. While the Times does not specify, the most likely law prosecutors would charge Petraeus under is the same as Edward Snowden and many other leakers: the 1917 Espionage Act.

It remains to be seen whether Petraeus will actually be indicted (given how high-ranking government officials so often escape punishment), and the decision now sits on Attorney General Eric Holder’s desk. But this is a fascinating and important case for several reasons.

First, all of Petreaus’s powerful D.C. friends and allies are about to be shocked to find out how seriously unjust the Espionage Act is—a fact that has been all too real for many low-level whistleblowers for years.

By all accounts, Petraeus’s leak caused no damage to US national security. “So why is he being charged,” his powerful friends will surely ask. Well, that does not matter under the Espionage Act. Even if your leak caused no national security damage at all, you can still be charged, and you can’t argue otherwise as a defense at trial. If that sounds like it can’t be true, ask former State Department official Stephen Kim, who is now serving a prison sentence for leaking to Fox News reporter James Rosen. The judge in his case ruled that prosecutors did not have to prove his leak harmed national security in order to be found guilty.

It doesn’t matter what Petraeus’s motive for leaking was either. While most felonies require mens rea (an intentional state of mind) for a crime to have occurred, under the Espionage Act this is not required. It doesn’t matter that Petraeus is not an actual spy. It also doesn’t matter if Petraeus leaked the information by accident, or whether he leaked it to better inform the public, or even whether he leaked it to stop a terrorist attack. It’s still technically a crime, and his motive for leaking cannot be brought up at trial as a defense.

This may seem grossly unfair (and it is!), but remember, as prosecutors themselves apparently have been arguing in private about Petraeus’s case: “lower-ranking officials had been prosecuted for far less.” Under the Obama administration, more sources of reporters have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined, and many have been sentenced to jail for leaks that should have never risen to the level of a criminal indictment.

Ultimately, no one should be charged with espionage when they didn’t commit espionage, but if prosecutors are going to use the heinous Espionage Act to charge leakers, they should at least do it fairly and across the board—no matter one’s rank in the military or position in the government. So in one sense, this development is a welcome one.

For years, the Espionage Act prosecutions have only been for low-level officials, while the heads of federal agencies leak with impunity. For example, current CIA director John Brennan, former CIA director Leon Panetta, and former CIA general counsel John Rizzo are just three of many high-ranking government officials who have gotten off with little to no punishment despite the fact we know they’ve leaked information to the media that the government considers classified.

So hopefully Eric Holder does the right thing and indicts Petreaus like he has so many others with far fewer powerful connections. As Petraeus himself once said after CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou was convicted for leaking: “There are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws.”

But if Petraeus does get indicted, perhaps we should start a new campaign: “Save David Petreaus! Repeal the Espionage Act!”

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , | 2 Comments

Journalism groups blast Obama admin for ‘politically driven suppression of news’

RT | July 10, 2014

In a letter to President Obama, 38 journalism groups criticized his administration for severely limiting access to federal agencies and a general politically-motivated suppression of information despite the president’s pledge of historic transparency.

Led by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the groups said that efforts by government officials to curb free-flow of news and information to the public has reached a peak during the Obama administration following a similarly stifling culture during prior president George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House.

“Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees,” wrote SPJ president David Cuillier. “This trend has been especially pronounced in the federal government. We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.”

Cuillier added that while agency personnel are kept mostly off limits to journalists, they are ”free [to] speak to others — lobbyists, special-interest representatives, people with money — without these controls and without public oversight.”

The groups said that Obama’s recent lamentations of a growing cynicism of government were peculiar given his administration’s broad efforts to shroud official action and policy maneuvers in secrecy, all of which “undermines public understanding of, and trust in, government,” the letter reads.

“You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in,” wrote Cuillier.

The administration has previously dismissed similar sentiment from other journalism and watchdog groups, including the White House Correspondents’ Association.

The letter cites examples of alleged information censorship, including officials repeatedly blocking reporters’ requests to talk with specific agency staff, long delays in answering questions that disregard reporters’ deadlines, officials’ proclivity for offering information anonymously or “on background,” and federal agencies completely blackballing of certain journalists who write critically of them.

“In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what information journalists — and the audience they serve — have access to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they wrote,” the letter stated.

The groups recommended that the president should encourage all federal agencies and their public employees to speak freely with reporters. In addition, they called for an ombudsman to keep track of any suppression efforts.

“Create an ombudsman to monitor and enforce your stated goal of restoring transparency to government and giving the public the unvarnished truth about its workings,” the letter said. “That will go a long way toward dispelling Americans’ frustration and cynicism before it further poisons our democracy.”

In March, journalists at the Associated Press reported that their research indicated that the US government has withheld more information than ever under the authority of President Obama. Their findings were based mainly on how difficult it is to successfully request documents from the White House through the US Freedom of Information Act.

In addition, the Obama administration has been criticized for using the punitive, World War I-era Espionage Act to punish whistleblowers who leak classified government information to journalists, in effect chilling press freedoms.

July 10, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | Leave a comment

‘US a police state, Obama consciously allows torture’ – CIA veteran John Kiriakou

RT | February 1, 2013

Ten years ago, the idea of the US government spying on its citizens, intercepting their emails or killing them with drones was unthinkable. But now it’s business as usual, says John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent and torture whistleblower.

Kiriakou is now awaiting a summons to start a prison sentence. One of the first to confirm the existence of Washington’s waterboarding program, he was sentenced last week to two-and-a-half years in jail for revealing the name of an undercover agent. But even if he had another chance, he would have done the same thing again, Kiriakou told RT.

­RT: The judge, and your critics all seem to believe you got off lightly. Would you say you got off lightly?

JK: No, I would not say I got off lightly for a couple of very specific reasons. First of all, my case was not about leaking, my case was about torture. When I blew the whistle on torture in December 2007 the justice department here in the US began investigating me and never stopped investigating me until they were able to patch together a charge and force me into taking a plea agreement. And I’ll add another thing too, when I took the plea in October of last year, the judge said that she thought the plea was fair and appropriate. But once the courtroom was packed full of reporters last Friday she decided that it was not long enough and if she had had the ability to she would have given me ten years.

RT: And why did you, a decorated CIA officer, take such a strong stance against an agency policy? Did you not consider that there might be some come-back?

JK: I did. I took a strong stance and a very public one and that’s what got me into trouble. But honestly the only thing I would do differently is I would have hired an attorney before blowing the whistle. Otherwise I believe firmly even to this day I did the right thing.

RT: You have called it ironic that the first person to be convicted with regards to the torture program is the man who shed light on it. Do you believe the others, who put the program together, will ever face justice?

JK: I don’t actually. I think that president Obama just like president Bush has made a conscious decision to allow the torturers, to allow the people who conceived of the tortures and implemented the policy, to allow the people who destroyed the evidence of the torture and the attorneys who used specious legal analysis to approve of the torture to walk free. And I think that once this decision has been made – that’s the end of it and nobody will be prosecuted, except me.

RT: When you initially came out against torture, you said it was impractical and inefficient. Did you consider it immoral initially?

JK: I said in 2002 that it was immoral. When I returned from Pakistan to CIA headquarters early in the summer 2002, I was asked by a senior officer in the CIA’s counter-terrorist center if I wanted to be trained in the use of torture techniques, and I told him that I had a moral problem with these techniques. I believed that they were wrong and I didn’t want to have anything to do with the torture program.

RT: It’s no secret that Obama’s administration has been especially harsh on whistleblowers. But can the US afford leniency, in these security-sensitive times?

JK: I think this is exactly what the problem is. In this post 9/11 atmosphere that we find ourselves in we have been losing our civil liberties incrementally over the last decade to the point where we don’t even realize how much of a police state the United States has become.

Ten years ago the thought of the National Security Agency spying on American citizens and intercepting their emails would have been anathema to Americans and now it’s just a part of normal business.

The idea that our government would be using drone aircraft to assassinate American citizens who have never seen the inside of a courtroom, who have never been charged with a crime and have not had due process which is their constitutional right would have been unthinkable. And it is something now that happens every year, every so often, every few weeks, every few months and there is no public outrage. I think this is a very dangerous development.

RT: Obama’s tough stance, and harsh punishments for whistleblowers, has sent a message. Is he winning his fight against those who speak out?

JK: I don’t think he is winning this fight against whistleblowers, at least not over the long term, and I’ll tell you why.

President Obama has now charged seven people with violations of the Espionage Act. All previous presidents in American history combined only charged three people with violating the Espionage Act. And the Espionage Act is a WWI-era act that was meant to deter German saboteurs during that First World War. And now it is being used to silence critics of the government.

But so far all seven of these cases that have made their way into a courtroom have either collapsed of have been dismissed, including mine. All of the three espionage charges against me were dropped.

So, I think frankly the Obama administration is cheapening the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act should be used to prosecute spies and traitors, not to prosecute whistleblowers or people who are exercising their first amendment right to free speech.

RT: Do we still need whistleblowers? Are we going to see more of them coming out?

JK: I think we will see more whistleblowers and I think we need whistleblowers now more than ever before. Whether it’s in national security or whether it is in the banking industry, the American people have a right to know when there is evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality. If the Justice Department is not going to prosecute these cases, at the very least the American people need to know.

February 2, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment