Freedom of conscience is not fully realized in isolation. Without the ability to share one’s thoughts, to speak out about injustice, or to join with others in peaceably assembling to petition for redress of grievances, this core freedom is not truly free. Americans should be able to exercise these most sacred rights in free society without worry of being monitored by the government.
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Symbol”>· Even if the amount of money being wasted were small—and it’s not, we're talking millions of dollars heaped into the coffers of local law enforcement agencies annually—the notion that we the people should tolerate the deployment of police, ostensibly hired to protect us, to spy on us without any criminal predicate is an outrage. The money spent spying on Americans could be spent strengthening our public schools, providing access to life-saving medicine for our neighbors or helping to achieve the Constitution’s promise of forming “a more perfect union.”
Little evidence has emerged, in the years since the horrific violence of 9/11, of any widespread threat from al-Qaeda within the United States. Nevertheless, politicians have used that potent memory to fund an enormous domestic surveillance infrastructure. The result of this trough of money and excess capacity—the turning of “counterterrorism” resources against law-abiding American citizens—was utterly predictable.
It has been more than 30 years since Congress acted with deep skepticism regarding government agents deployed to spy on Americans. The last thorough and truly independent investigation was after Watergate, when the Church and Pike Committees spent months intensively investigating the ways in which prior administrations had violated Americans' privacy and trampled civil liberties under the guise of national security.
In 1976, then-Attorney General Edward Levi promulgated the “Levi Guidelines,” investigative guidelines developed in response to domestic surveillance abuses, such as COINTELPRO, perpetrated by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. Since the Carter administration, however, there has been an accelerating erosion of protections from domestic surveillance. The “Levi Guidelines” were later largely With the post-9/11 shift from enforcing the law to “intelligence gathering,” numerous public rules as well as secret guidelines were altered to maximize the gathering of information about Americans without requiring any criminal predicate. The new rule appears to be that almost everything is fair game without probable cause, except for home searches and phone taps (but even the rules for electronic surveillance and the acquisition of intelligence information are now subject to enormous loopholes due to changes pushed into law in 2008 by Director of National Intelligence-turned- It was a stroke of misfortune that, on 9/11, then-Vice President Dick Cheney served as the de facto head of the national security hierarchy. Cheney's “dark side” approach created a climate in which longstanding rules intended to protect basic rights were replaced with array of questionable, if not absurd, interpretations of domestic and international law.
The federal government, in general, claims to abide by a long-standing rule that a person will not be investigated based “solely” on protected First Amendment activity. But what does that amount to in reality? In Arizona, it appears fusion center personnel used the prospect of anarchist involvement in protests of banks, other corporations, and/or ALEC as a hook for dispatching at least one undercover officer to infiltrate groups of Americans organizing peaceful protests. Fusion center personnel even cited past instances of “violent tactics” perpetrated against ALEC in other states, when, in reality, there had only been one prior incident of graffiti (spray paint) at an ALEC event.
Quite frankly, there is no way to know if groups of American anarchists have been infiltrated by law enforcement or intelligence agents acting as agent provocateurs, urging more aggressive action. It is worth noting that, in the case of the Phoenix infiltration, the undercover officer apparently claimed to be affiliated with an alleged Mexican anarchist group that claimed to have committed acts of arson.
The idea that the prospect of graffiti can trigger months of infiltration and surreptitious surveillance of citizens exercising their freedom of conscience exposes that the idea our government will not monitor citizens based solely their exercise of First Amendment rights is little more than a joke. And that joke is on us.
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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”> and formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice and as the Senior Legislative Strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union on national security issues. She has been called to testify before Congress as an expert witness on national security and civil liberties issues.
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