Defending Rights & Dissent launched a groundbreaking new report chronicling the FBI’s (most) recent surveillance of social movements. And the report, Still Spying on Dissent: The Enduring Problem of FBI First Amendment Abuse, is already making waves! The Intercept just published a major piece on the report, that both summarizes and validates the report:
Since 2010, the FBI has surveilled black activists and Muslim Americans, Palestinian solidarity and peace activists, Abolish ICE protesters, Occupy Wall Street, environmentalists, Cuba and Iran normalization proponents, and protesters at the Republican National Convention. And that is just the surveillance we know of — as the civil liberties group Defending Rights & Dissent documents in a report published today. The report is a detailed catalog of known FBI First Amendment abuses and political surveillance since 2010, when the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General published the last official review of Bush-era abuses.
You can read and download the report yourself right here. Please share it widely. People need to understand how the FBI is undermining our democracy!
The report exposes FBI political surveillance as systemic and part of a wider pattern of abuse, and documents how the FBI frequently cites its counterterrorism authorities when spying on non-violent protest groups. It also documents how the groups targeted by the FBI are frequently peace, racial justice, environmental, and economic justice advocates. It’s part of a broader problem where the FBI treats dissent as the enemy. And that’s not a new problem. As the report shows, from its inception the FBI has continuously engaged in this type of political surveillance. The Intercept shared the report with the FBI. The response was not surprising:
After reviewing the report, a spokesperson for the FBI wrote in a statement to The Intercept that every activity the FBI conducts “must uphold the Constitution and be carried out in accordance with federal laws.” The spokesperson added that the bureau’s investigative activities “may not be based solely on the exercise of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment” and that its methods “are subject to multiple layers of oversight.” On its website, the bureau calls the Palmer Raids “certainly not a bright spot for the young Bureau” but adds that they did allow it to “gain valuable experience in terrorism investigations and intelligence work and learn important lessons about the need to protect civil liberties and constitutional rights.”
This report is authored by our very own Chip Gibbons. Chip has served as our policy and legislative counsel and has advised both state and federal lawmakers on the First Amendment implications of pending legislation. He’s also a journalist. His writings on the FBI have appeared in The Washington Post, The Nation, In These Times, and Jacobin. He’s conducted original research into political surveillance through FOIA and archival records requests. He was even a plaintiff in a lawsuit that caused the FBI to agree to release thousands of pages pertaining to surveillance of activists groups in the US (something you may be hearing more about in the coming weeks!). He brought this wide ranging skillset and breadth of knowledge to this truly interdisciplinary report.
This report is a meticulously documented accounting of what we know about FBI political surveillance. But we only know what we do because of FOIA, leaks, activists coming forward, and intrepid investigative reporting. Of course, the FBI is very good at hiding things from the public. Our report not only documents FBI surveillance, but FBI obfuscation.
Most importantly, our report is a call to action. It is well past time for Congress to shine light on exactly what’s taking place at the J. Edgar Hoover Building.