It was a declassified FBI document that Lucia Wilkes Smith held up before a crowd of Minneapolis peace activists. It was declassified in name only because nearly every word on the dozen or so pages had been blacked out for national security reasons.
“The first letter I got from the FBI said ‘we don’t have anything on you’, said Wilkes Smith a well-spoken gray-haired woman. She had made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of the FBI. The American Civil Liberties Union and others had urged her to file the request because the FBI had been spying on anti-war groups in Minnesota prior to and during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
“And then another letter came that said ‘well we got a few pages, but they’re classified’. And then eventually they declassified this and sent it to me.” She held up the dozen or so pages with nearly every word blacked out.
For years, the FBI, Homeland Security and other government agencies have been spying on Wilkes Smith and other outspoken opponents of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The FBI even went so far as to send an undercover agent to a neighborhood anti-war meeting in Northfield, Minnesota.
This past September, the FBI raided the homes and offices of nine Twin Cities peace activists and carted off computer files, phone records and personal possessions. They also delivered subpoenas to the nine. The same day, the FBI raided homes of other peace activists in Chicago and Michigan. A total of 23 were ordered to appear before a Grand Jury to testify and name the Trade Unionists they had they met with in Colombia especially and in Palestine.
Naming names could be a death sentence
Trade Unionists are outlawed in Colombia. The names, if released, could end up on death squad hit list. They kill unionists in Colombia. In Palestine, Israel is always looking for people who have contact with outside activists. The fear is that Colombia or Israel could use the names to cook up more vengeance on activists.
Some peace activists may be asked to testify before the Grand Jury in Chicago as early as January 25th.
Wilkes Smith isn’t one of those subpoenaed, but she knows what it’s like to be watched and is helping her friends fight back. This week at a meeting of the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, she urged them to file FOIA requests to find out what evidence the government has against them.
“I’m scared and I’m really angry because I think some of my friends and colleagues, they won’t just be going to jail. They’ll be going to federal prison.”
Military veterans opposed to the war offered solidarity with those targeted by the FBI. Wayne Wittman of Veterans For Peace has his own reasons to be wary of the U.S. Government. He was just 16 when World War II ended. He recalled how Nazi Germany would describe events “exactly opposite of how my government was describing. I soon learned that my government’s description was the truth.”
Wittman said his confidence in the U.S. government was shattered during the Vietnam war. “We now know we were lied to, deceived in that war”.
“Any one of us could be a target”, said Jennie Eisert,an anti-war organizer helping people fill out the FOIA request forms. “Join with us to show that that freedom of speech, freedom of association and fighting for justice is not illegal. Demand a halt to the Grand Jury proceedings.”
According to the Washington Post, Eisert’s words of warning should be heeded by more than those in the room that night. The newspaper says:
* The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.
* The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.
In other words, there is a lot of information being collected that shouldn’t be. Former FBI Agent Coleen Rowley who is also part of the peace movement says that having so much junk information in the system makes it harder to spot the real threats.