ACLU Says FBI Spying on Religious, Protest Groups
Reuters | December 2, 2004
WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday accused the FBI and local police of spying on political and faith-based groups and formally asked the government for information about such FBI surveillance.
In Freedom of Information Act requests filed in 10 states and Washington, D.C., the ACLU sought information about the FBI's use of Joint Terrorism Task Forces and local police for what it called political surveillance.
It pointed to some documented examples of task forces' involvement in the investigation of environmental activists and anti-war protesters.
"The FBI is wasting its time and our tax dollars spying on groups that criticize the government, like the Quakers in Colorado or Catholic Peace Ministries in Iowa," said ACLU associate legal director Ann Beeson.
"Do Americans really want to return to the days when peaceful critics become the subject of government investigations?" she said. The ACLU is America's most prominent independent advocacy group for civil liberties.
The FOIA requests seek FBI files on groups and individuals targeted for speaking out or practicing their faith.
The FBI denied using the task forces -- a key element of the government's efforts to prevent another terror attack like those on Sept. 11, 2001 -- to spy on innocent individuals.
Asked about the ACLU action, an FBI spokesman said, "The FBI does not investigate individuals or groups that are engaged in exercising their constitutional rights of freedom of expression.
He added, "Only if they are engaged in criminal activity in support of a cause would we be interested in them."
In its FOIA request, the ACLU asked for information on procedures used by the task forces for monitoring people based on their race, religious affiliation, organizational membership or participation in protest activities.