Pastor Who Bought Books Online Got FBI File
Kentucky Courier-Journal/James Malone | May 20 2005
PADUCAH, Ky. -- Raymond Payne first learned that the FBI might be interested in him when he tried to cross the border into Canada last fall for some sightseeing.
Payne, who is pastor of Mead Memorial United Methodist Church in Russell in Eastern Kentucky, said he and his wife were stopped by the Canadian border patrol and questioned for about 90 minutes.
The Canadians told Payne that he was the subject of an FBI file, he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. That bothered him, he said, because he has never been charged with a crime or been politically active.
But Payne now thinks that an Internet book order that he placed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- some reading material about Islam and several copies of the Quran for his congregation's comparative study of religions -- may tie into the agency's interest.
"I want to know if a file exists, and if so I want to know why," Payne said. "If it was because I ordered some books over the Internet, then that seems to be a very disturbing thing."
The ACLU of Kentucky this month filed freedom-of-information requests with the FBI on behalf of Payne, who said he is not affiliated with any war protesters, and several Kentuckians and Kentucky groups that oppose the war in Iraq and believe the FBI has been monitoring their activities.
The ACLU also has filed requests on behalf of activists in at least a dozen other states.
"We wouldn't be doing it if we did not think (monitoring) was really going on," said Beth Wilson, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky.
David Beyer, a spokesman for the FBI's Louisville office, said, "The FBI does not monitor people for participating in First Amendment activities."
Beyer said he could not answer specific questions raised by the ACLU because the matter is in litigation. The ACLU has sued over delays in obtaining some records elsewhere.
Kentucky ACLU attorney Lili S. Lutgens said the group asked for an expedited response from the FBI and hopes to hear something within 10 days.
A few censored documents
In December, the ACLU filed its first requests on behalf of more than 100 groups and individuals in six states. So far, the FBI has released only a few censored documents.
The ACLU alleges that the FBI is wrongfully withholding records that the civil liberties group claims show that the bureau monitored war protesters.
Several members of Patriots for Peace, a Western Kentucky group that has organized demonstrations against the war in Iraq, wonder if the FBI monitored their meetings. The group has a mailing list of about 80 people.
Joyce Merryman Kemp, a former board member of the Kentucky Lottery Commission and a Paducah financial adviser who has been active in the peace group, said someone may be monitoring her Internet traffic.
Kemp said she was working on her computer one day when, without warning, a box popped up on the screen showing personal information about two trips she had taken, one of them to a conference on nuclear cleanup issues.
"It was terribly jarring," said Kemp, who added that she didn't know what her reaction would be if an FBI file on her is found.
Robin Newberry, a Paducah police department spokeswoman, said officers monitored anti-war demonstrations with a view toward preserving public order and safety.
But she said the department never provided information about demonstrations to the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security, nor were they asked to provide such information.
The Rev. Gregory Waldrop, pastor at St. Luke Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Paducah who worked with Patriots for Peace, said he is concerned about FBI monitoring because of the USA Patriot Act "and its fuzzy boundaries."
Kevin Murphy, 63, of Livingston County, a retired employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who said he had a top security clearance, also has demonstrated with the Paducah group.
"It would disturb any citizen who plays by the rules and minds his own business," Murphy said of being monitored. "But how would you ever know unless you ask?"
Ken Nevitt, 53, a Louisville lawyer and activist with the Louisville Peace Action Community, said he hopes there is no file on him.
"I will be disappointed in our government for spending time and energy on people like me when there are more pressing problems and some really bad guys out there," Nevitt said. "It will only serve to chill others from expressing their opinions."
Bill Anthony, a U.S. Customs and Border Security spokesman, said accounts like the one about Payne's questioning are "plausible" if someone who is on a federal government watch list tries to cross the border.
But Anthony said he did not know the details about Payne's questioning or whether he is on a watch list.
Payne, who said he was allowed to enter Canada after being questioned, said that the agents told him that his name was on an "open" FBI file. He said he and his wife were taken to a room and were repeatedly asked a series of questions.
"In various forms they asked the same questions, and wanted to know where we were from, if he had any weapons with us, where were we going and the purpose of our trip, and if we had traveled outside the country recently," he said. "In various forms, they asked those questions over and over again."
Payne said he was not questioned when he re-entered the United States.