Tuesday, December 07, 2004

ACLU after FBI snoopers

Talk Left lets us know that the national American Civil Liberties Union launched a new effort "to expose and limit FBI spying on people." Texas doesn't appear to be on the list of 10 states in which they're starting their investigation, but perhaps we'll make it into their next round of requests scheduled for early 2005. From what we know already, they'd find a lot to work with.

Last spring, the ACLU's Texas affiliate discovered though open records requests that the Austin Police Department was spying on local anti-war protesters. See the February 19, 2004 letter (pdf) from ACLU of Texas, written by yours truly, to the Austin City Council on the subject.

Austin police said in response to ACLU of Texas' revelations that the only reason they don't constantly have undercover officers infiltrate activists is that protesters do not regularly schedule events. "Until then, we're doing narcotics work," announced Assistant Chief Robert Dahlstrom in an interview with The Daily Texan.

Our suspicion was always that Austin PD reports were sent to the Joint Terrorism Task Force based in San Antonio. JTTFs are the entities primarily targeted by ACLU-national's FOIA requests. City officials never confirmed nor denied that's where the reports ended up. The letter linked reads, "You need to find out on behalf of your constituents whether APD routinely passes on intelligence gathered in such a way to the Joint Terrorism Task Force." One councilmember promised to investigate and let us know, but somehow the information was never forthcoming.

Texas saw another bizarre incident where a couple of military intelligence officers attended a conference on Islam and the Law and tried to get conference organizers to turn over their registration lists.

There's other reason to believe that Texas' Joint Terrorism Task Forces are quite active. Richardson, Texas was home base for the Holy Land Foundation, which allegedly funneled money raised under its American non-profit status to gift surviving families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Plus Texas' oil industry has always facilitated connections among Texas' wealthy and powerful to their counterparts in the Arab world.

Thank heavens for ACLU aggressively tackling this subject, and good for them for trying a research and PR approach instead of heading straight for the courthouse. For all the wrongheaded and trivial stuff they do that occasionally makes me wonder why I'm associated with the group, there's nobody but ACLU to take on these core fights that will determine whether we retain a functioning Bill of Rights through this weird historical period. If you're not a member, join up and make sure this kind of work continues.

Disclosure and disclaimer: The author works as a part-time consultant for ACLU of Texas and directs their state police accountability project. All opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect ACLU's position, nor anybody else's.

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