Just days ago, the Obama Administration and Congress effectively made legitimate all the operations of the FBI since FBI Director Robert Mueller took over the agency one week before the September 11th terror attacks. The extension of Mueller’s term makes it possible for Congress to move forward without addressing the abuses, misconduct and violations of the law that have taken place during Mueller’s efforts to transform the agency from a law enforcement agency to a massive domestic spying agency. Extending Mueller’s term signals any future FBI director with power and credibility in Washington may be able to skirt term limits.
A 10-year limit was imposed on all future FBI directors after the Church Committee in the 1970s uncovered FBI efforts under then director J. Edgar Hoover to suppress political dissent through COINTELPRO. Hoover began to head the agency that would come to be known as the FBI in 1924. For forty-eight years, he served, amassing a level of power in Washington that led his overseers to fear wielding oversight. Former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach told the Church Committee he was “unwilling to use” his power because of the “clout” Hoover had in Congress and with current and previous presidential administrations.
The Senate’s move to pass legislation that would allow for an exception to the term limit imposed in the 1970s and President Obama’s willingness to preserve continuity in the agency and not acknowledge FBI history demonstrates this country is faced with a problem similar to the problem Hoover posed. Mueller may not have been around as long as Hoover, but it appears that for members of Congress an FBI director in the post-9/11 era can commit no act of misconduct that would lead to his resignation being demanded.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) finds Mueller has been “forthright in coming before Congress and explaining” mistakes at the agency. He hasn’t been “simply passing the buck.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who likely would claim to be a leader on FBI oversight in Congress, said on the term extension, “I would hope that all senators would step forward and vote for this nomination, and I can think of no reason why they shouldn’t.” He concluded Mueller is “typical of many in our government who serve the people of America tirelessly, without any gain for themselves.”
The US Senate held a vote on the term extension and unanimously approved the two-year extension. No senators had a problem with granting this extension, despite the fact that it would establish a clear precedent for undoing one of the biggest reforms to come as a result of the Church Committee.
As FBI director, Mueller has misled Congress on the extent of FBI agents’ exposure to abuse and torture of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Sen. Leahy may have willfully chosen to overlook this fact, since he was the one who made this point back in December 2006, but Mueller came before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2004 and was asked by Sen. Leahy if agents had seen “objectionable interrogation practices.” He said no agents had witnessed abuse “in Iraq,” an answer that deliberately allowed him to skirt taking responsibility. But, in December 2004, documents were released proving FBI agents had witnessed abuse and torture of detainees.
Under Mueller, the FBI has employed the use of warrantless GPS tracking. Twenty-year old Yasir Afifi, an Arab-American, found a “black, rectangular device” attached to his car. He thought it was a pipe bomb and posted photos to Reddit.com, hoping someone would help him identify what he had found. FBI agents showed up at his door days later demand he return the device. (Both Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder have been sued for violating Afifi’s constitutional rights.)
Mueller has defended the use of entrapment schemes to ensnare and arrest so-called “terror suspects,” particularly Muslims. In the case of the Newburgh 4, the FBI helped four individuals, three whom are now in jail for twenty-five years, plan and almost commit a terror attack. Once the men from poor and underprivileged backgrounds were conned and were about to set off explosives, the FBI arrested the individuals. Relaxed guidelines have made it possible for the FBI to engage in these schemes and use informants to gather names, emails and phone numbers of individuals, who regular attend mosques even if there is no suspicion of criminal activity.
Mueller has also defended the shooting of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in Detroit by FBI agents in October 2009. During a House Judiciary Committee hearing in March of this year, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) asked Mueller about the shooting saying the community he represents was still reeling from the extrajudicial killing. He told Mueller there was an “undercurrent of criticism about some of the undercover informants of the FBI stirring up trouble in the Arab American community.” Mueller responded by defending the FBI’s outreach to Muslim, Arab and Sikh Americans. And, he defended the FBI’s murder of Abdullah saying, “I think everyone who has looked at that incident believes that the response was appropriate under the circumstances.”
A recently published report on government secrecy from the ACLU indicates three clear instances of misconduct or abuse of power.
Congress met in 2005 to debate whether to extend provisions of the PATRIOT Act that were due to expire. Mueller testified before a key intelligence committee claiming allegation of abuse of the PATRIOT Act could not be “substantiated. “ The ACLU concludes Congress had no way to verify this statement and, absent evidence of abuse, reauthorized the PATRIOT Act in 2006. Simultaneously, an audit of the FBI’s use of National Security Letters (NSLs), which allow the FBI to force credit card companies, financial institutions, and internet service providers to give confidential records about customers’ subscriber information, phone number, email addresses and the websites they’ve visited, was ordered. The audit uncovered “thousands of violations of law and policy” and there is no way that Mueller had no idea that NSLs were routinely being employed illegally.
In March 2009, provisions of the PATRIOT Act were once again set to expire. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) asked the FBI for recommendations on reauthorizing the provisions. Mueller testified on the “lone wolf” provision, which gives the FBI the power to investigate “lone terrorists” who have no connection to foreign nations or organizations suspected of terrorism. Mueller called the provision “tremendously helpful” and said it was “beneficial and should be reenacted.” But, the Department of Justice later admitted that this provision, which civil liberties groups have said could lead to protesters being subjected to investigations for domestic terrorism, had never been used.
And, in 2006, the ACLU exposed FBI spying on political activists, which included the “surveillance of a peaceful anti-war protest by the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” The FBI under Mueller made up a story to escape criticism. Mueller claimed the surveillance had been “related to a separate, validly-approved terrorism investigation.” Sen. Leahy (who applauds Mueller’s commitment to ensuring that the FBI adheres to the values and freedoms that Americans hold dear), asked for documentation of this claim. The FBI was unable to produce any evidence so the story collapsed. Then, on the record, FBI officials made up a second story. The Inspector General tried to investigate who was making up these stories, but the FBI refused to turn over emails so a proper investigation could be conducted.
The FBI of the post-9/11 era is increasingly indistinguishable from the FBI under Hoover, which routinely targeted political dissidents. The FBI has been intimidating WikiLeaks supporters, especially individuals involved in organizing with the grassroots organization, the Bradley Manning Support Network. It has subpoenaed the Manning Support Network’s co-founder David House to appear before a federal grand jury into WikiLeaks in Alexandria, Virginia. And, the FBI in one instance harassed House’s friend, who has had nothing to do with computer or activism. They subjected him to hours of interrogation and required him to surrender notes on his meeting with FBI agents if he wished to get out of detention.
The FBI has made animal rights and environmental activists a “number one domestic terrorism threat,” despite a warning from the Justice Department as far back as 2003 to not obsess over animal rights and environmental activists. Will Potter of GreenistheNewRed.com finds throughout history there have been government campaigns against progressive social activists. Evidence of FBI targeting of animal rights and environmental activists shows how key aspects of COINTELPRO has been institutionalized by government.
In the last few months of 2010, twenty-three antiwar, labor and international solidarity activists were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago. The activists from Chicago, the Twin Cities in Minnesota and other areas in the Midwest, had their homes raided by the FBI with documents, cell phones, storage disks, computers and children’s artwork seized. Search warrants and subpoenas suggested the FBI was targeting the activists for evidence that they had provided “material support to terrorism.”
On January 12, 2011, targeted activists announced an agent named “Karen Sullivan” infiltrated the Twin Cities Antiwar Committee (AWC) to monitor the group’s organizing efforts for the Republican National Convention. And, in May, a Los Angeles County Sheriff SWAT team, accompanied by FBI agents, raided long-time Chicano activist Carlos Montes. They essentially looted his home taking his computer, cell phone, computer disks, photos and forty-four years worth of political activist files. Montes was arrested and questioned about his support for antiwar activists raided in the Midwest in September of last year.
The Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR), composed primarily of activists subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury investigating their activism, found FBI documents an agent left behind in a home during a raid. They published the documents on May 18. The documents included a list of questions they wanted to ask the targeted activists, and the list proves that the FBI is investigating US citizens for their political beliefs.
Last year, the FISA court approved over 1,500 FBI requests to electronically monitor suspects. The FBI obtained permission to spy on at least 14,000 people. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has warned the FBI is using secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act to justify a greater authority to collect information. And, in June, the FBI further expanded its power by issuing new guidelines that grant the agency the authority to conduct undocumented database searches, lie detector tests, trash searches and expand the use of surveillance squads. It has claimed more power to investigate public officials, scholars and journalists and approved rules that would provide more freedom for agents and informants to not disclose participation in organizations that are targets of FBI surveillance.
The extension of Mueller’s term ensures the FBI will continue to commit massive abuse of the law and will continue to violate Americans’ civil liberties. It makes certain Congress will not hold proper oversight hearings to rein in the agency, which has greatly run amok as a result of power granted to it in the aftermath of 9/11.
There will be no reflection on operations of the agency. As with most policies, programs and government agencies these days, Congress and the Obama Administration have decided continuity is more important than addressing lawless and illicit operations in government. And, in doing so, they have chosen to follow a credo of President Obama’s and move forward without looking back.