Ashcroft FBI Guidelines: Out Hoovering-Hoover
Emile Schepers, Program Director, Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill
June 1 2002
ASHRCROFT'S NEW GUIDELINES FOR THE FBI THREATEN A RETURN TO THE DAYS OF
UNBRIDLED HARASSMENT OF DISSIDENTS
Attorney General John Ashcroft has just issued new guidelines for FBI surveillance
and investigations, which threaten to take us back to the days of J.Edgar
Hoover. He has now given absolute power to FBI field office directors to
investigate anybody and everybody at their own discretion. He has removed
the concept of "probable cause" as a requirement for initiating surveillance
of organizations and individuals, and he has authorized FBI surveillance
of all public demonstrations and meetings. This is the "other shoe" that
we were waiting to drop with regard to the rumored gutting of the "Levi
Guidelines" created by the Ford Administration after the Church Committee
hearings in the 1970s revealed the full horror of decades of FBI abuses
under COINTELPRO, and long before.
Press accounts in the last couple of days have tended to misrepresent
what, exactly, is the danger. They have often suggested that the main problem
with the FBI before the Levi Guidelines, and therefore the danger from
Ashcroft's new dispensation, was that people's privacy would be invaded.
We have to remember that since the inception of the FBI's political activities
in the wake of the 1919 Palmer Raids, a whole lot more was harmed than
Lest we forget, here are some of the issues that arose with the FBI
under Hoover and especially under COINTELPRO. The now-historical Levi Guidelines
were designed to prevent these things, though we would be naive if we thought
that with the issuance of those guidelines, all such abuses stopped:
In his short tenure in office, Ashcroft has already shown a tendency to
out-Hoover Hoover, to sweep away checks and balances developed to prevent
government attacks on First Amendment and due process rights. The USA/PATRIOT
Act, Ashcroft's creation, was rammed through Congress in October 2001 without
any of the normal Congressional hearings or public discussion. Ashcroft
and Bush let it be known that anyone who dared to oppose it would be seen
as abetting terrorism. One of the most dangerous aspects of the USA/PATRIOT
Act is its marginalization of judicial review over repressive actions by
the government, a direct attack on the idea of checks and balances in the
Constitution. The new guidelines are a serious step in the same direction,
as the idea that people exercising First Amendment rights of freedom of
speech, press, religion and assembly can not be investigated without probable
cause, is utterly discarded. If Ashcroft and Bush are allowed to go on
in this fashion, the end product is political repression worse than anything
Hoover or McCarthy were able to inflict. In the 1950's, for example, immigrants
accused of "subversive" affiliations were processed for deportation but,
if their countries of origin would not take them back, were able to continue
to live and work in the United States. Under the USA/PATRIOT Act, such
immigrants can be permanently imprisoned without trial.
Use of agents-provocateurs. The FBI from the Palmer Raids through COINTELPRO
did not confine itself to infiltrating organizations for the purpose of
collecting political information. It often had its undercover operatives
act as agents provocateurs who attempted to goad or entice activists into
illegal activity, so that they could then be prosecuted and/or do disrupt
or discredit the organization in the eyes of the public. Often, the FBI
connived with local police in this type of activity. Particularly egregious
examples of this would be the attempt by an FBI agent to get the daughter
of Malcolm X to assassinate Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. The
FBI also connived with Puerto Rican authorities to entice young pro-independence
activists to their deaths in the famous Cerro Maravilla incident.
Fomenting violent conflict between dissident groups. The Hoover FBI worked
hard to get different dissident organizations to fight with each other
by spreading rumors and putting out false communications. In a particularly
egregious case, the FBI tried to start an armed war between the Black Panther
Party and followers of West Coast African-American nationalist Ron Karenga.
Getting people fired from their jobs. A favorite tactic, not stopped by
the Levi Guidelines, was for the FBI to go and talk to the employer of
a political dissident, not to get information but to intimidate the employer
and get the employee fired.
Destabilizing personal lives of dissidents. The FBI has been known to collect
salacious personal information about political dissidents and then to use
this information to try to coerce them into stopping their political activities.
In the case of Dr. Martin Luther King, they surreptitiously "bugged" his
hotel room and then used the information gathered in a clumsy effort to
get him to commit suicide. Many believe that actress Jean Seberg actually
did commit suicide in partial reaction to such prurient FBI activities.
J.Edgar Hoover used to selectively share or leak this information for the
purpose of discrediting people he considered enemies of the government,
and to make the point that you, too, could find your sexual peccadilloes
a matter of public record if you did not stay away from dissident politics.
Framing dissidents for serious crimes. The FBI concocted criminal cases
against people it wanted to see behind bars for political reasons. Black
Panther leader Geronimo Pratt spent 25 years in jail because of such an
FBI intrigue and was only released when the case against him was found
to be deliberately cooked up by the FBI.
Chilling of dissent. The idea that FBI agents are everywhere, that the
person sitting next to you in a meeting or in church could be secretly
developing a government file on you that could be used to deny you a government
job (or even a private sector job), that somehow the FBI might "come after"
you and your family because of the ideas you express or the company you
keep, was one of the things that lent the post World War II "McCarthyism"
period its special oppressive atmosphere. The announcement of these new
non-rules for FBI surveillance are calculated to chill dissent and to block
the growth of vocal, public opposition to the Bush administration's policies.
We have seen the wolf, now we have to act.