Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is chair of the House Select Committee regarding the January 6 Attack Attack, said last week to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that his committee might recommend new domestic intelligence powers. Stephanopoulos did not press him for details. However, recent history has shown the dangers and futility of this approach.
A rigorous and independent examination has never shown any of the post-9/11 surveillance actions enacted in Congress (including the USA PATRIOT Act) to have prevented any attacks on the United States during the 20-year period. It is not possible to imagine that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security will have more surveillance authority, making a repeat of the Capitol Riot less likely.
Stephanopoulos was indeed told by Thompson that it was “the worst-kept American secret that people came to Washington to protest the outcome of the election.” Many of the protesters recorded their actions and uploaded them to social media. The FBI now faces the task of going through a lot of video in order to find the perpetrators. The Justice Department website shows that the most difficult part of the process has been to arrest, charge, and get plea bargains.
The FBI has an unbelievably broad authority to monitor individuals and domestic groups, without the need to appear before a judge in order to obtain a warrant.
An investigative category called an AssessmentFBI agents are authorized to search government and commercial databases, including those containing classified information, run confidential informants and perform physical surveillance without the need for a court order.
The Cato Institute found out last year that Concerned Women For America had been investigated by the FBI using this method to launch an investigation without any criminal predicate through a Freedom of Information Act request. This group is a non-profit organization whose stated goal it to protect and promote Biblical principles and Constitutional values through advocacy, education, prayer and prayer. According to my information, the FBI has not investigated or disciplined anyone for targeting this group.
Even in routine FBI investigations, the Bureau’s organizational mindset, investigation categorization, and classification process may slant an inquiry so it is labeled as something that it clearly not. This could potentially compromise or chill constitutional rights for innocent Americans. This problem was highlighted by another Cato FOIA request.
Let’s start with some background. Political passions were running high in the United States during the immediate aftermath of the invasion. Since its infiltration and surveillance of anti-war groups has been an ongoing practice, the FBI continued this tradition in the War on Terror. One product of that surveillance was a July 2005 FBI field office on events whose case title included the acronym “AOT-DT”—an abbreviation for “Act of Terrorism-Domestic Terrorism.”
Cato obtained the document via FOIA. It described an “honk-for-peace” event that was sponsored by Campus Green and the Student Peace Action Network in Raleigh. The evening included music, conversation and speakers for “exchanges of ideas.” A small number of anarchists vandalized a Bank of America ATM in Raleigh and the North Carolina GOP Headquarters.
The FBI reported that several of the participants were charged for felony riot offences. However, there is a vast difference between using an ATM to hammer and a truck bomb that destroyed a Federal Building in Oklahoma City, or flying bombs on airlines in New York. This anti-war incident was classified by the FBI as an “act terrorism” investigation. It is a sign of a mental problem.
Vandalism is not acceptable, but conflating it with maiming or killing people for political purposes—the generally accepted definition of terrorism today—is reckless. Future FBI database searches involving “domestic terror” and “North Carolina”, will yield hits for SPAN or Campus Green. Despite the fact that neither of these groups are officially associated with any acts of political violence, it is likely they will return hits.
This shows the dangers inherent in the FBI’s powers. These dangers can be made worse by giving law enforcement agencies more expansive and poorly-conceived domestic surveillance powers.