FBI Spied On Activists Because Protecting Corporate Interests Is Roughly Equivalent To Ensuring National Security

from the our-disregarded-internal-policies-trump-your-First-Amendment-rights dept

That whole thing about the FBI not surveilling people based solely on First Amendment activity? The thing that's been in all the (FISA) papers (and agency policies)? Yeah, the FBI hasn't heard of it either.

The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, documents reveal.

Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.
"Unduly involved" is right. First of all, a majority of what was monitored was First Amendment activity, something no federal intelligence or investigative agency is supposed to be doing. Certainly, there can be law enforcement monitoring of protests as they occur, but there's no provision in the law that allows the FBI to monitor people solely because of their activism.

Unless, of course, these activists are declared "extremists." Then all bets (and Constitutional protections) are off.
“Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices,” the FBI document states.
"Extremists" are often mentioned in the same breath as "domestic terrorists," so with a little bit of rebranding, the FBI is now able to surveill people solely for their First Amendment-protected activities. That's handy and not totally unexpected, given the agency's long history of eyeballing activists who run contrary to its view on How Things Should Be. At one point, it was uppity blacks and encroaching homosexuals. Now, it's people who don't want an oil pipeline running through their neighborhoods.

And, even though we know the FBI has clearly taken a stance on controversial issues in the past and shaped its surveillance activities accordingly, it's rather jarring to see an investigative agency decide who's right and wrong by issuing a statement (wrapped in a self-justifying plan of action) on behalf of one side of the issue.
“The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.”
Having decided that protecting corporate interests was roughly aligned with its "national security" purview, agents then routed around any internal controls that might have restricted its plans to break FBI policy.
[T]he partially redacted documents reveal the investigation into anti-Keystone activists occurred without prior approval of the top lawyer and senior agent in the Houston field office, a stipulation laid down in rules provided by the attorney general.
But, hey, no problem because the FBI totally fixed things in-house and in post.
Confronted by evidence contained in the cache of documents, the agency admitted that “FBI approval levels required by internal policy were not initially obtained” for the investigation, but said the failure was remedied and later reported internally.
The supposed extremists it monitored the longest were part of an organization known as the Tar Sands Blockade, a group committed to nonviolent protest. While minor crimes such as trespassing were committed by members of the group, nothing rose to the level of what one would normally associate with an FBI investigation. And it went on for 11 months after the "error" that allowed the investigation to exist in the first place was discovered.

Mike German, former FBI agent and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice lays out the obvious problem with the FBI's behavior:
“It is clearly troubling that these documents suggest the FBI interprets its national security mandate as protecting private industry from political criticism,” he said.
That is troubling. Just as troubling is the agency's determination that the surveillance it never should have initiated resulted in no "adverse effects." But for who? Obviously, the FBI walked away from this with little more than another dent in its now-heavily damaged reputation. But what about those who were surveilled? Or those who might be in the future when they exercise their First Amendment rights? The FBI's self-assessment doesn't factor in these consequences and because it doesn't, it will likely make the same (intentional) "mistakes" in the future.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 11:53am

    It's not only doing it for corporate interests but if something that's deemed immoral or not in line with the sacred American family is also swept under the surveillance rug. A while back I was fortunate to have a chat with a girl that was very engaged in activism for sex workers and she even had Govt agents follow her around and later found out she was under close scrutiny for about 2.5 years. For fighting for the rights of sex workers. If you expand the search field a bit you'll remember Swartz being harassed for his activism (I'm not sure if the FBI was involved). Examples are out there to be seen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      k. katsoner, 16 May 2015 @ 3:44pm

      Re: being a good american

      I decided to be a good american and write a letter a day to a senator or a member of congress, just one letter a day to show the government. federal or local, I was a citizen involved. BIG booboo, my phone got taped, people asked me what's wrong with your phone/landline. And after a few days,they got tired of hearing the recipes homemade for low calorie french dressing or tomato cake they left. I was taken aback by what they who ever they are, they can decide,and label dangerous but worse deem and mark anyone for investigation, thats scary.
      Corp criminals who move in and out of Govt must go to Jail/prison, these are the hidden policy makers of the police state.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 12:03pm

    i wonder how much longer before the people actually realise they are living in what is as close to being a Police State without actually saying the words, as 'damn it' is to swearing?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy2020 (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 12:07pm

    Our current reality so much mirrors this show I watched called Continuum where in the future we are ruled by the "Corporate Congress".

    They did such a good job of showing how something simple like a wristband that tracks all of your health data to help you and your doctor treat you which was then used by the government/corporations to establish control.

    It's crazy that reality mirrors fiction so much. It seems like we're actually headed for a totalitarian corporate state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jupiterkansas (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 12:55pm

      Re:

      That's not reality mirroring fiction. That's fiction mirroring reality. There's a big difference.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 1:52pm

      Re:

      Continuum is a great show, just finished binge watching it myself. Season 4 comes out July 26 on SCIfi channel I think.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        J4_wR, 16 May 2015 @ 2:04am

        Re: Re:

        I have only seen the first few episodes. It may get better but so far...I don't know. The heroine is a cop hunting down members of an underground that are rebelling against a post-democratic authoritarian corporate government. The rebels are simply psychos and she is represented as a "good guy". Her being a tool for a dystopian corporatocracy isn't even explored - it is simply accepted. The show seems to have no real problem with human rights being subverted by corporations. It feels very strange to me.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2015 @ 2:38pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Let the show flow over you. It is a journey for the future cop as she comes to realize what she bought into might be a load of crap.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 20 May 2015 @ 9:29am

          Twenty minutes into the future

          Max Headroom (also a Canadian production) was the same way. Corporations (along with police and a high criminal element) had no interest in respecting consumer rights if it got in the way of profits.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Protector of the copyright!, 15 May 2015 @ 3:33pm

      Re:

      Don't care what you said but you are using my name plus my least favorite cyberpunk RPG as a name so I'm making a DCMA complaint Right NOW! Plus I know R.Talsorian Games Inc. Will have something to say about this!

      Pirate!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 12:07pm

    In this "us vs them" culture, you're considered an extremist if you don't share my point of view.

    Once again it's the government changing words to match the definition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 15 May 2015 @ 12:12pm

    FBI Defenders of The Status Quo

    The FBI illegally surveilling American citizens exercising their inherent right to free speech and peaceful assembly further exposes the cretins within the FBI (and other state security organs) as the frauds they truly are.

    These state security cretins care not about American citizens safety/liberty rather they are defenders of the status quo who are keen on stamping out the glowing-embers of change before they reach their masters tinder box of a lifestyle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 12:18pm

    Simply unbelievable...

    The First Amendment is supposed to means it's protected from the FBI, and every other watchdog, but it simply is not. I think a police state is right on -- and unless we're going to actually do something to stop it, we are powerless to stop it. It's very elementary -- do you want to DO SOMETHING about it, or don't you care?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 1:10pm

      Re: Simply unbelievable...

      "...and unless we're going to actually do something to stop it, we are powerless to stop it."

      I agree. It has largely come to this point as a direct result of our society's apathy and passivity.

      If you or someone you know is in search of level-headed, non-violent, and effective ideas for what to do to help save our democracy, please consider reading up on it here: Reforming America: steps to new politics

      ...and as always, support the groups that are currently taking meaningful action by fighting in court against these sorts of thing on our behalf (e.g., EFF, ACLU, EPIC, Privacy International, etc.)

      If you can hear this, you are the Resistance.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 12:54pm

    How can it be "vital to the security and economy of the United States" if it hasn't even been built yet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Todd Shore (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 1:02pm

    I did not see in the article that the FBI had quit this surveillance - only that they corrected the procedural requirement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Just Another Anonymous Troll, 18 May 2015 @ 7:00am

      Re:

      How much you wanna bet that the proof they were extremists and required monitoring was their previous monitoring for being extremists?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ambrellite, 15 May 2015 @ 1:15pm

    These investigations (supposedly) only collect information that the FBI doesn't intend to use in court, but what assurance do we have that the FBI isn't providing that information to third parties, such as the corporations that they're explicitly trying to protect?

    We need to treat all such illegally-obtained data as violations when they happen, not just when they're used against us in court. The data must be erased, and thosee responsible subjected to personal consequences (even a simple fine would do).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 2:05pm

    Frank Church is rolling in his grave

    Why does every new generation think "it won't happen again, we've learned from our mistakes"? Unchecked power is the perpetual problem and new technologies continually shift the balance toward the powerful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 2:10pm

    Is Barack Obama an extremist?

    >“Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices,” the FBI document states.

    Isn't this quite similar to President Obama's position?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 3:00pm

      Re: Is Barack Obama an extremist?

      ...promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices...

      And what did we get?

      Cheaper jobs and (higher) oil prices!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 6:05pm

        Re: Re: Is Barack Obama an extremist?

        yeah - blame him for everything ... thanks obama

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          iclei_is_icky, 16 May 2015 @ 10:50pm

          Re: Re: Re: Is Barack Obama an extremist?

          re: yeah - blame him for everything ... thanks obama

          I blame myself.

          After all.

          * I authorized the aumf.

          * I authored the patriot act.

          * I got quackery converted to a DR / PHD along with false science DSM to be used as a political weapon to take away firearms, at the same time I used my DSM and tortured my new enemy combatants whom I have created via problem reaction solution.

          * I also have among my accomplishments created electronic voting and got HAVA 2004 ACT rammed in, I almost have INTERNET VOTING rammed in.

          * I also made sure the banks don't have to follow the constitution, or rule of law.

          * I try to grab firearms and I attack the constitution by simply exploiting my new registration database,

          * I love the Psychiatrists with their DSM I also created, sending me more data - even though DR Patient is supposed to be sacred - we can share a little - the important stuff like getting your ass disarmed and labeled crazy so you can't do shit about the Police State I ALSO CREATED.

          * I LOVE MY NEW DATABASES I CAN EXPLOIT FOR ANY POLITICAL TARGET OR PURPOSE BLACKMAIL, MURDER, THEFT, WHATEVER, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE, AS LONG AS MY ENDS ARE MET WHO CARES ABOUT MY MEANS OF GETTING THERE. SO WHAT IF A FEW PEOPLE GET MURDERED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. I MEAN WE MUST BURN THE CITY DOWN COMPLETELY TO SECURE IT FOR NEW WORLD PEACE. MY DATABASES ROCK, AT ANY POINT IN TIME I CAN SETUP ANYBODY WITH ANYTHING FOR ANYTHING. ALL I NEED IS A TARGET TO KILL LIKE SOMEONE WHO HATES THE ISRAEL GOVERNMENT ACTIONS BUT LOVES JEWS AND CAN'T BE TOUCHED PUBLICLY.

          * I love How I go to the wrong address and kill people all the time and nothing happens. Dogs and Cats and Kids a bonus point. THe nightmares and FEAR I spread is PRICELESS

          * I love how my state secrets can ensure I get away with ANYTHING.

          * I love how my Judges get jurors to be too scared to do nullification

          * I LOVE the fraud my IPCC generated.

          * I LOVE UN AGENDA 21 - it's fun to watch the forced vaccines legally make the people twitch at the end, as they die. The twitching is priceless. The horror as the rest of the family loses their health, wealth and prosperity is PRICELESS. IT's like raping a virgin--DIVINE!

          Now if I could just shut up.
          I want you to tell me to shut up when I bring all of this stuff up, because if WE talk about it it might actually get solved. IF people were to actually challenge the unconstitutional barricades I have been tossing in their path to their destruction, they might figure out I am undermining the United States from the INSIDE and they might start looking at dual citizens in the pentagon and other parts of my planning, they might see I Purged out all those OATH KEEPERS, We just can't have Generals or troops who do the right thing in a murderous police state. I do not want you to discover my TREASON and COUP!

          So tell me to STFU! like you mean it. Maybe just SHOOT me now?!

          You see what I am saying?
          NOW LOOK CLOSER

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            iclei_is_icky, 16 May 2015 @ 11:03pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Is Barack Obama an extremist?

            You know I do have one regret.

            At the Bundy ranch.

            I should have gotten a fake warrant and forced everyone on the ranch to take a Psych Eval. Then Using my psychiatrists and their bible the DSM we together could take all the peoples guns away using a LEGAL WARRANT and the NCIC database through the HHS database and 36 agency share. So our MERC's could kill everyone (cough do their ops) easier and steal (aquire) the land. Good grief, we still can't give the land to the China -- A massive error I made!

            I been having sleepless nights over this now for months.

            I don't think mowing down 1000 Palestinians with an Aircraft GUN would cheer me up. I just feel so depressed.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              iclei_is_icky, 16 May 2015 @ 11:20pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Is Barack Obama an extremist?

              Also remember when the cops go to the wrong house?

              I found out I CAN make that happen on accident (wink) 100% of the time. Just by screwing with the database using a HEX EDITOR!~ hahaha I love technology

              1134 Target Boulavard

              00000000 31 31 33 34 20 54 61 72 67 65 74 20 42 6F 75 6C 1134 Target Boul
              00000010 61 76 61 72 64 avard

              becomes

              2134 Target Boulavard

              00000000 33 31 33 34 20 54 61 72 67 65 74 20 42 6F 75 6C 1134 Target Boul
              00000010 61 76 61 72 64 avard


              e.g.
              1134 = 31 31 33 34
              becomes
              2134 = 33 31 33 34
              and boom your off to the wrong address with guns.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 9:27pm

        Re: Re: Is Barack Obama an extremist?

        And what did we get?

        Cheaper jobs and (higher) oil prices!


        If you're talking about the Keystone XL pipeline, you're using the wrong tense, as that hasn't been built.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Protector of the weak, 15 May 2015 @ 3:29pm

    The center of the galaxy is exploding...

    But they are the Hindmost so they are brave tributable men!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JohnHalo (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 4:34pm

    Oh Please....

    The FBI will be after the PRO pipeline people NOT the loons against it. This administration politicizes and corrupts then uses every part of govt to reach its political goals. I don't believe for a second any part of this govt will go against Dear Leaders wishes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2015 @ 6:24pm

    exposing corruption be it at the corporate or federal level is clearly terrorism.

    Only state sanctioned terrorism against the citizenry is allowed here in Amerika

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Free for All, 15 May 2015 @ 11:19pm

    Nothing to See Here

    This is nothing new. A couple of recent cases come to mind.

    There was the prosecutor that charged a man with a crime because he wrote anti-bank statements on a public sidewalk in washable chalk.

    The prosecutor that drove Aaron Swartz to suicide made the choice to defend the profits of a company that puts taxpayer funded research information behind a paywall.

    If you're a corporation that wants to rip off or poison the public the US legal system has your back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 11:47pm

    Government capture

    This is a lovely example of government capture by a corporation.

    A corporation that will bring 35 permanent jobs to the entire U.S.; will bay $negative taxes; will profit no company in the U.S.; risks environmental damage; destroys property rights; won't provide the U.S. with a single drop of oil; and...well, there is not a single visible upside to Keystone XL that can possibly outweigh even one of the negatives.

    Yet the government (every level) is bending over backwards for Keystone; not only to give them permission but to secure their land and protect their activities; including as described here, suppression of public comment and activism.

    No matter what pithy platitudes may be mouthed by our legislators or courts: anyone who gets in the way will be pepper-sprayed, tazed, clubbed, beaten, stomped, arrested, jailed, sued, imprisoned, terrorized, or declared a terrorist; or will be forced by loss of employment, eminent domain, or other tricks to move. By the time it's over we will possibly even see people burned out or murdered.

    Keystone XL is happening; might as well accept it. Our lapdog government hastens to do its fawning duty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bruce, 16 May 2015 @ 9:40am

    FBA (Federal Bad Apples)

    How cum "a few bad apples" ALWAYS seem to Be RUNNING THE $HOW?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jopin Klobe, 16 May 2015 @ 10:59am

    Creeping Corporate takeover

    Look at just two things: 1. Electronic voting 2. "Citixens' United" court case.

    1. The program(s) running our voting system are considered "proprietary", and, thus, can not be inspected by anyone other than the corporation that owns the rights. The voting population does not have the right to know.

    2. "Dark Money" (the neo-Cons word for it) says it all.

    The lines are now blurred enough for Corporatism to take over completely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 16 May 2015 @ 11:10am

    Isn't this the New American Century?

    After ICE raided Kim Dotcom for the MPAA I thought that defined government agencies as now mercenary services for big industry (rather than, y'know, keepers of the peace and actual law enforcement). It was affirmed when SWAT guys raided someone's house for a stolen iPhone prototype.

    So of course the FBI works for big oil. If that was a problem, we would have been worried about it when symptoms of corporate occupation were evident long ago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2015 @ 1:19pm

    FBI is worse than the MAFIA(A).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Larry Allen, 16 May 2015 @ 7:51pm

    FBI/Keystone

    They are protecting David and Charles Koch who are the extremists in this case, threatening the economy by blocking a $51 Trillion renewable energy market; Threatening national security by voting for more global warming which has already been declared a national security threat, and also harming our international prestige as we are increasingly viewed as a country unable to get its own house in order. If this supposed law enforcement agency persists in supporting big oil AGAINST the federal government they will have he'll to pay eventually.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2015 @ 11:33pm

    Don't forget about the Federal Law declaring people who report animal abuses, as terrorists. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Enterprise_Terrorism_Act

    The next thing you'll hear about is individuals who violate copyright and patent laws being labeled as terrorists. After all, it's claimed that such individuals 'degrade' the economy and thus, jeopardize the national security of countries (the stock market).

    So Grandma in the US ordering her drugs from India for a discount will be labeled as a anti drug patent extremist in due time. Give it a few more years and a couple more "free trade" (policy laundering) agreements.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2015 @ 5:11am

      Re:

      Copyright violation?

      Pirate copy brings "naval extremists" to mind.

      In Germany copyright infringments are 'branded' as "Raubkopie" - robbed/robbery copy, so you know those must be very evil, no-good extremists

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 18 May 2015 @ 10:43am

        Pirates are jolly!

        ...Take Sir Francis Drake:
        The Spanish all despise him.
        But to the British he's a hero
        And they idolize him.


        It's how you look at buccaneers
        That makes them bad or good.
        And I see us as members of
        A noble brotherhood!


        Hey ho ho! We're honorable men
        And before we lose our tempers
        We will always count to ten...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.