People with far larger audiences than mine will no doubt link this article on today's Salon.com main page, so the best I can hope for is that my night-owl habits will allow me to beat them to the punch. Here's hoping.

All vanity aside, this is one of the most frightening articles I've read in a long time. When Kos and others were posting about the subpoenas being issued by Ashcroft et al to the students at Drake University, I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't really articulate what it was. And I tried, trust me.

Now I know what the big deal is, and how that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm not old enough to know anything firsthand about COINTELPRO, and I've never really gotten into that sordid part of law-enforcement history, but I know that the possibility that police and FBI agents are snooping in on peaceful dissenters pisses me off. Mcihele Goldberg writes:

But once again, protesters throughout America are being watched, often by police who are supposed to be investigating terrorism. Civil disobedience, seen during peaceful times as the honorable legacy of heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., is being treated as terrorism's cousin, and the government claims to be justified in infiltrating any meeting where it's even discussed. It's too early to tell if America is entering a repeat of the COINTELPRO era. But Jeffrey Fogel, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Law in Manhattan, says, "There are certainly enough warning signs out there that we may be."


Even more frightening is the degree to which the Ashcroft Justice Department is extending its talons in search for terrorists.
Avery suggests that such investigations will have a chilling effect on the planning for future protests. "The risk is that if there's some kind of demonstration or protest activity that involves trespassing, [the JTTF] is saying they can ask people what political meetings have you been to lately, who was there, what did you talk about," says Avery. "People are allowed to meet and talk and debate political issues without being spied on by the government." At least, they used to be.

What's next? Watch lists for posting negative thoughts about the administration on an internet forum? Will I be held up at the gate when I fly to see my girlfriend in a few weeks because I openly consider the Bush administration to be the worst thing to happen to the US since New Kids on the Block? Or more importantly, because during the run up to the war in Iraq, I participated in a protest (although no one was arrested) on my college campus?

In at least two of the the cases Goldberg cites, the groups that were infiltrated by local police departments were groups that had--up until this happened--good relations with the police. Whenever they were planning a protest, they used a police liaison and ensured that there would be no violent outbreaks. These aren't rock-throwing anarchists trashing the neighborhood Starbuck's because of a local WTO meeting--these are peaceful activists. And in at least one case, it seems to me that the undercover cop was looking to entrap the group.
Peters remembers unloading her car outside the church where the training was held when she saw a couple walking by, looking like they were "killing time" before finally going inside. The man, a muscular guy who looked to be in his 30s, introduced himself as Chris Taylor and said the woman with him was his girlfriend. In fact, his name was Darren Christensen and he was an undercover officer, as was Liesl McArthur, the woman he was with. As the Rocky Mountain News reported in December, much of his usual undercover work involved "being solicited on line for deviant sex."

Unlike Hurley, Christensen immediately made the activists nervous. "A couple of people from the group came up and said, 'Who are they? Do you know them from any other events?'" says Peters. "He was pumping for information, asking questions about whether there was a group that was more radical and had a different focus, more like the black bloc or the anarchists."
Am I alone here?

Goldberg's article also gives a rundown of the safeguards that were put in place after COINTELPRO came to light, and how Ashcroft has gutted them during his tenure, and it also goes into a bit about why local police departments may be raising their own threat levels. I'll give you a hint--it has to do with money.

This is part one--I'll report on part two tomorrow late night.

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