Minnesota’s City Pages has a story on FBI agents working as part of the city’s Joint Terrorism Task Force seeking informants to infiltrate “vegan potlucks” and spy on possible Republican National Convention protesters, once again raising the specter of COINTELPRO. The FBI has a history of using informants to gain data on suspected protesters and also of linking up with state or local police to do so. In some cases, law enforcement agents’ actions go beyond mere data-gathering.
At the 2004 convention in NY, a “protester”’ working with NYPD was publicly fake-arrested , which led to other protesters arguing with officers in riot gear. In 2003, the media detailed the FBI’s extensive surveillance of antiwar groups and request that local officials report any suspicious activity from such groups to its terrorism unit. In 2005, it was revealed that the FBI had opened terrorism files on groups such as Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center (the ACLU received FBI documents through a Freedom of Information Act request).
Some critics have evoked comparisons to the publicly condemned domestic surveillance program, COINTELPRO, in which the FBI abused its investigatory powers to harass and disrupt political opponents. Congressional investigations revealed that the FBI built dossiers on groups suspected of having a Communist ideology even though they had not engaged in crimes, including the NAACP, and the agency burglarized political groups to gather data on them.
These abuses led to the creation of the Attorney General’s Guidelines limiting the ability of the FBI to intimidate activists. However, the agency continued to investigate groups that engaged in legitimate political activities. Besides the current surveillance of political protest groups, the FBI also established in the 1980s the “Library Awareness Program,” a system to obtain library records to monitor reading habits. The FBI later revealed that it had investigated hundreds of Americans – librarians and others – because they protested the program.