Secret documents reveal government spy-and-smear campaign
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and it was my day off. Sitting in my rather neglected garden, as the late afternoon light sparkled golden on the tops of the plum trees, I put down my book – the 1995 edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois – with more than a little annoyance. I was smack dab in the middle of a short story, “Asylum,” by Katharine Kerr, a tale about a future military coup in the US, written from the point of view of a particularly earnest liberal with faintly radical leanings. The main character is a woman writer who is abroad when the generals take over, and is marked as an enemy of the state on account of her book, Christian Fascism: Its Roots and Rise. Her San Francisco office is raided and her files carted away. She gets a call from a friend before the coup plotters cut off all communications with the outside world: “It’s seven days in May – stay where you are!” She stays, but is tortured by the prospect of her daughter being in harm’s way: when communications with America are finally restored, she wrestles with the question of whether to pick up the phone and make a call that might endanger her daughter. After all, what if the Christian Fascists are listening?
The phone kept ringing. I picked it up with annoyance: it was our webmaster, Eric Garris, telling me about this – FBI documents recovered through the Freedom of Information Act that detail surveillance of Antiwar.com, the staff, and specifically yours truly.
A word about the authenticity of the documents and their provenance: they were posted on a public website, Scribd.com: their form, including the extensive redactions, the acronymic bureaucratese, and the lunk-headed cluelessness which dominates the FBI’s corporate culture, so to speak, combine to verify their authenticity.
As to the content of these documents, one word describes them: bizarre.
According to a memo stamped “Secret,” marked as “routine,” and dated April 30, 2004, we apparently drew the attention of the feds when we posted a copy of a “terrorist suspect list” [.pdf] which had been supplied by the US government to various corporate and governmental agencies, both here and abroad. These documents – including one posted on the web site of an Italian banking association – contained the names of those on a “watch list,” the product of an FBI operation dubbed “Operation Lookout.” The memo acknowledges the list “was posted on the internet” in “different versions,” but says the FBI “assessment was conducted on the findings discovered on www.antiwar.com.”
These guys are using us a resource – so why haven’t they contributed to our fund drive?
The April 30 memo – which was issued to FBI counterrorism offices in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Francisco – is prefaced with the following rather ominous “administrative” note:
“This document contains information obtained under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), 50 U.S.C., Section 1801. Such FISA derived information shall not be used in any criminal proceeding, including grand jury proceedings …”
FISA created a special secret court, to which the feds have to go to get approval from a judge to tap your phone, open your mail, and rifle through your garbage. This accounts for the large number of lengthy redactions that pepper the pages of this report. Sneaking around corners, and spying on Americans engaged in peaceful and legal activities, they don’t want anyone to know how closely they mimic the methods of totalitarian governments
After a paragraph of précis detailing the basic facts about Antiwar.com – its mission, personnel, and nonprofit status – the details of several database searches are enumerated. A search of the Universal Index (UNI) for antiwar.com “was negative,” however “a scan of the Electronic Case File (ECF) revealed numerous documents for [redacted] and antiwar.com.” This is apparently an index of documents, “intelligence,” and random rumors picked up by various FBI snoops. The information revealed about Antiwar.com is, naturally, redacted, although we are given a hint as to the origins of some of the dirt they have on us: “File 65T-HQ-1427774 serial 26, dated 04/14/2004, from the Counterintelligence Unit CD-4E/11869 to the Washington Field Office furnished Washington Field Office with information received by [next four lines redacted].”
So who says we don’t have friends in Washington?
The redactions are extensive. The next entry refers to another file in the FBI database and starts out in mid sentence:
“…that he was in possession of a document which was written in Italian. This document specified that [redacted] was a suspect on an FBI list. The document contained[redacted] social security number, date of birth, and two previous addresses. [Redacted] was listed as [redacted] on a list dated 05/22/02. This document can be found at www.antiwar.com/justin/CI-08-02.pdf.”
This almost certainly refers to one of my columns about the mysterious “Urban Movers,” the Israeli employees of a New Jersey moving company who were arrested on 9/11/01 on suspicion they had some connection to the attacks. Five Israeli nationals were arrested that day, and held for over three months, subjected to lie detector tests, and later deported back to Israel. The owner of the company, one Dominick Suter, and his wife, fled to Israel the day before the police raided the company’s office and hauled away cartons of evidence: the Suters are among those listed on the “terrorist suspect list.” That was the angle I pursued in my columns, and it looks like the FBI also took an intense interest in the Suters.
The FBI’s intense interest in this “suspect list” verifies that, as I wrote on several occasions, it is indeed authentic. The “enclosures” accompanying the memo include two pieces written by me on the subject: one a piece I wrote for Chronicles magazine about the New Jersey incident, and another antiwar.com column which they wrongly attribute to some website styling itself as “Pravda” (a site which was never authorized to publish my work). While the FBI and the US government have long denounced the persistent stories [.pdf] of “Israeli art students” and “Urban Movers” conducting covert activities on Israel’s behalf in the US as an “urban myth,” their inclusion of Suter and his spouse on their “Operation Lookout” list and their apparent panic that I publicized this fact directly contradicts their denials.
Here’s how the law enforcement resources devoted to “counterterrorism” are being spent: scouring for useful “intelligence” on Antiwar.com on the internet turned up an article – title and author redacted – “reporting on the magnitude and value of American military and economic assistance to Israel” whose author cited “one of his sources of information as www.antiwar.com.”
Aha! Evidence! But evidence of what?
A report dated 11/13/2002 describes a peaceful protest at the gates of a military base in Britain, during the course of which someone handed out a leaflet citing my “Urban Movers” piece. Another report, detailing a meeting of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, apparently attended by one of their undercover agents, says “a member discussed a website, Antiwar.com,” as a way to “educate themselves about the Middle East conflict.” As if to provide a “balanced” view, the memo cites the website of the New York Jewish Defense League – an officially designated terrorist outfit – as including “harsh criticism” as well as photographs of Eric Garris and myself.
Slowly, but surely, the author of this FBI memo is building a case: the document is written in the language of an indictment – but what are the charges? That Antiwar.com is widely read and cited? That we posted a publicly available document on the internet, one that was published by Cryptome.org and others? That we are in league with neo-Nazis and are hoping to start a race war and initiate a reign of terror? Well, that’s just a warm-up, folks, because it’s worse than that:
“File 17A-LA-234485 serial 55, dated 11/10/2003 indicated that on 10/27/2003, a special agent reviewed the computer hard drives of [several words redacted]. The review of two hard drives revealed visits to many websites between 07/25/2002 and 06/15/2003. One of the websites listed was antiwar.com.”
Of course, we’re terrorists – yes, that must be it. Otherwise why would the FBI Counterterrorism Unit be taking such an interest in Antiwar.com? And the proof? Well, someone snared in one of their investigations actually went to our website – more than once! If that isn’t a good reason for the feds to set their dogs sniffing around our garbage cans, well then I don’t know what is.
Following this “incriminating” tidbit are several redacted paragraphs, interspersed with one rather intriguing comment: “There are four FISA derived references [to Antiwar.com] located at Newark [FBI Office].” Only the serial numbers corresponding to the files in the FBI database are referenced: the rest is redacted, including what they discovered after searching DMV records.
Under “Analyst Comments,” we are told that “the rights of individuals to post information and express personal views on the internet should be honored, however” the “terrorist suspect list” we published is somehow “singular in nature and not suitable for public release.”