While the fervor created by revelations that the U.S. Department of Justice recently wiretapped American journalists, and IRS agents targeted Tea Party and conservative groups raged, an online anti-war magazine quietly filed a lawsuit indicating these federal government abuses of power go deeper and reach much further back than most Americans realize.
On May 22, Antiwar.com managing editor Eric Garris and longtime editorial director Justin Raimondo filed a federal suit against the FBI demanding the release of records apparently compiled on them and the 17-year-old online magazine. Filed by the ACLU of Northern California on behalf of Garris and Raimondo, the suit also demands the FBI stop collecting records of constitutionally protected speech.
A heavily redacted FBI memo released after a 2011 Freedom of Information Act reveals the FBI began spying on Garris and Raimondo as early as 2004.
“It’s easy to blow these recent scandals off as some kind of partisan, anti-Obama witch-hunt,” Raimondo said. “But clearly, this total disregard of basic constitutional rights and gross abuse of power go back to the Bush administration, and probably further than that. This is not a partisan problem. This is a systemic problem. The FBI pretty much does whatever it wants, whenever it wants in the name of ‘fighting terror,’ and has been for a long time – the Constitution be damned.”
According to the suit, the ACLU made several futile attempts to obtain the FBI records after release of the memo. The documents indicate the FBI has files on Garris and Raimondo, and at one point the FBI recommends opening a preliminary investigation of Antiwar.com “…to determine if [redaction] are engaging in, or have engaged in, activities which constitute a threat to national security.”
Garris called the accusation “very scary” in an environment where the federal government claims the authority to indefinitely detain anybody it decides is “associated” with a terror group, even on American soil.
“On one hand it seemed almost funny that we would be considered a threat to national security, but it’s very scary, because what we are engaging in is free speech, and free speech by ordinary citizens and journalists is now being considered a threat to national security. They don’t even have to prove it, because the government has the ability to suppress information and not disclose any of their activities – as witnessed with what is going on now at the AP and other things.” he said. “Have we really gotten to the point where we have to fear some government thug dragging us off into the night with a black bag over our head just because we dare question U.S. foreign policy?”
In the released memo, an FBI analyst recognized Antiwar.com’s content as constitutionally protected speech, but still recommended opening an investigation and continued surveillance of the site. ACLU of Northern California staff attorney Julia Mass said government monitoring creates just the kind of chilling effect the First Amendment was designed to guard against.
“Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy, whether it’s the Associated Press or Antiwar.com,” she said. “Government surveillance of news organizations interferes with journalists’ ability to do their jobs.”
(For more information on FBI surveillance of Antiwar.com, click HERE.)