Here's part two of the Salon piece I blogged late last night.
The majority of the article is based around the experiences of Jennifer Albright, a former Assistant District Attorney from Albuquerque, NM, and Abby Puls, a court translator from Grand Rapids, Michigan. In both cases, these were people who were involved in peaceful protests and whose careers were threatened by undercover police infiltrating the groups they belonged to.
The charges are the same--both Albright and Puls were accused of blowing the covers of undercover cops. Both deny the charges, and neither have ever been officially charged with that activity, which leads me to believe that any proof the police have of these charges is tenuous at best. But the question that remains unanswered in all of the cases Goldberg cites in her two part series is "Why are the police infiltrating these groups in the first place?"
One answer is of course, money. Federal funding is always in demand, and a police force that joins the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) gets more of it, especially if it can produce results in the form of arrests and convictions. This creates unnecessary tension between police and protest groups who are out generally just to make a statement and nothing more.
Albright points to another potential factor, however.
She believes the police are motivated at least in part by personal hostility. "My point of view, which I tried to discuss with my boss before I was fired, is that I'm being retaliated against by the police department," she [Albright] says. "Many law enforcement officers have prior military service. In talking to some of the officers, they seemed to take a real personal affront to anyone thinking the war is wrong. They said, 'That's a personal attack on us.' Somehow they equate themselves with the military."That's a dangerous attitude to have if you're in the business of maintaining order, but it's becoming more and more common. In Goldberg's earlier piece on the FTAA protests in Miami, she describes the police department as geared up for war, continually taunting and goading protestors, beating and humiliating them without cause or provacation.
Police have the duty to keep order, but do not have the right to become spy rings infiltrating legitimate protest and political discussion groups. Last I heard, it was still legal to express your disapproval of the government both publicly and privately without fear of retribution.
The last part of the article deals with the reasons why the threat to civil liberties is geater today than it was in the days of COINTELPRO. The answer is quite simple--the advances in telecommunications and computing power makes it easier and faster to share information. The problem is--once information gets into the system, it's hard to make sure it gets out, and that's a problem if the information is either inaccurate or was illegally obtained. That worries Chris Pyle, a politics professor at Mount Holyoke College.
That's bad news for protesters interrogated by the New York City Police Department about their political activities last year. As the ACLU reports, between February and April of 2003, the "NYPD had forced hundreds of protesters charged with minor offenses to surrender information about their political affiliations and prior protest activity. That information was being collected on a recently disclosed form titled 'Criminal Intelligence Division / Demonstration Debriefing Form.'"
In response to an ACLU complaint, the police department stopped the interrogations and promised to destroy the records relating to them.
But Pyle says that once created, such files have a way of proliferating -- and smearing the reputations of those on them, in a kind of Orwellian version of the game "telephone." "After Sept. 11, the FBI sent out a list of 'persons of interest' to a few corporations, casinos and airlines in a desperate attempt to increase security," he says. "These security departments then copied the lists, integrated them with their own lists and sent it to their friends. Within a month, there were 50 of these lists on the Internet. They'd been reproduced and reissued, by intelligence agencies, police departments or corporations from as far away as Brazil and Italy. But now most of the lists said these are terrorists or terrorist suspects, not persons of interest."
If I'd been arrested in New York, I'd be pissed now, especially if I was one of the many who claim (as there are at every mass protest arrest) to be an innocent bystander, wrong place at the wrong time, because if you're on a watch list somewhere now, forget ever trying to get on a plane, especially overseas. Think it's hard to get your name cleared after an identity theft? This is a thousand times worse.
Does the FBI have a file on you?
Are you sure about that?