March 13, 1991

Constitutional Rights Being Undermined

Many antiwar activists are now wondering if "national security" isn’t as much of a euphemism as "collateral damage" is for civilian casualties.

By Paul DeRienzo*

A little known fact is that in times of war the president has the power to restrict the civil rights of U.S. citizens and others living in this country. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln had opponents jailed without charges and closed newspapers critical of his handling of the war.

President Woodrow Wilson's Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer rounded up thousands of antiwar activists in the years after World War I, deporting many well known leaders such as Emma Goldman and "Big Bill" Haywood to the Soviet Union.
During the Vietnam War the FBI undertook the massive COINTELPRO program of intelligence gathering, infiltration and murder of civil rights and antiwar activists. The CIA was also implicated through its infiltration of the student antiwar movement.
The role of Chicago police in the 1969 murder of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton was exposed by a Commission of Inquiry headed by civil rights activist Roy Wilkins and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark in his book Search and Destroy. The authors write; "Many may simply refuse to believe officials are capable of unlawful violence. Others will believe such violence and support it. But surely most Americans will not knowingly accept police lawlessness. If official violence is to be renounced, the truth must finally overcome our natural reluctance to incriminate government."
On Aug 2nd, 1991, as Saddam Hussein consolidated his grip over Kuwait, President George Bush signed an Executive Order declaring a "National Security Emergency" within the U.S. That order and others enacted in the following months began a process of gradual imposition of restrictions on civil rights.

The Movement Support Network (MSN) is an antirepression project of the Center for Constitutional Rights set up in 1984 to investigate FBI infiltration of the Sanctuary movement, the so-called "New Underground Railroad" for refugees fleeing the violence in Central America. The MSN has recently published an incident list of intelligence gathering and harassment related to the Persian Gulf war,


The most common harassment comes in the form of FBI visits to the homes and workplaces of hundreds of Arab Americans. According to the MNS, the FBI is acting under the "illegal assumption" that merely because of their ethnicity; Arab Americans may be involved in terrorism.

In one case reported to the MSN in February, FBI agents approached the top security officer at a nuclear facility in northern California to ask about an Arab American nuclear engineer. The engineer was questioned about his work and whether terrorist groups had approached him.

The FBI has also used the pretext of investigating the recent wave of anti Arab hate crimes to pry Arab Americans for information about their political views and alleged links to terrorism. FBI agents recently visited a Lebanese American in Hollywood, stating that they wanted to protect him, but instead questioned him about his political activities.

Several Arab American shopkeepers on Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue have also been questioned, as have Palestinian students on campuses from coast to coast. One Palestinian was actually removed from a classroom at a San Francisco community college for questioning by FBI agents in January.

Ironically, after an FBI visit had drawn attention to an Iraqi American in San Francisco, his family became targets of anti-Arab violence, leading to hospitalizations. One Iraqi American shopkeeper in Brooklyn was detained for two hours and threatened with immigration sanctions on Jan. 23.

The CIA, exercising its new power to engage in domestic intelligence gathering granted under the Reagan administration in violation of the 1947 National Security Act, had also been involved in the investigation of Arab American students. In September, CIA agents approached a University of Connecticut official for a list of all foreign students at the university. The school was also asked for the Students' country of origin, major field of study, and the names of their academic advisers. An agent said the CIA intended to open a file on each student, focusing on students from the Middle East.

The FBI has also directly targeted antiwar activists. The FBI visited several families of military reservists who had begun conscientious objectors applications in December.
In September, a New York group that had been organizing support for military resister Jeff Paterson reported a break-in. A Chicago group, The Middle East Peace Coalition, also reported a break-in last December at a building used by several antiwar groups. On Feb. 5, a week after its first national conference, the office of the National Student Campaign for Peace in Washington, D.C. was broken into. Break-ins were a favorite tactic of the FBI during COINTELPRO.

The MSN reports intense surveillance and harassment of travelers at airports by Customs agents and police. Often these incidents are the result of profiles that target anyone who doesn't fit the government’s conception of a normal citizen. Incidents include one in New York in February, when an Iranian citizen with permanent residence in the U.S. was detained and interrogated for two hours after returning from Europe.

Airport harassment hasn’t been limited to international flights. In Denver shortly after the bombing of Iraq had begun, an Arab American woman waiting for a domestic flight was told she would not be allowed on the flight without proof of U.S. citizenship. Racial stereotyping seems to be at the heart of many of these airport incidents. In November, security agents for Northwestern Airlines stopped passengers who looked Arab and questioned them about their occupations.

Pan Am has announced a policy of refusing to carry anyone travelling under an Iraqi passport, a move denounced by American-Arab Relations Committee as "McCarthyism all over again." The Federal Aviation Administration has put the nation's 435 airports and 115 airlines on a Level 4 security alert, the highest there is.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has also been active in harassment of antiwar activists, a reprise of their Vietnam era role. In October, a freelance journalist who interviewed Jeff Paterson was investigated by the military and afterwards received notice from the IRS that he was being audited. In New York City, the IRS told a Jewish peace group that their application for nonprofit status was being handled directly by the Washington, D.C. office instead of local offices.
The MNS also reports numerous cases of tampering at offices of antiwar groups and threats left on answering of the MNS and other groups involved in antiwar litigation.
Federal Snoops In NYC

The FBI has long targeted the group CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) for surveillance, and had offices broken into in the mid-1980s, the height of the movement against U.S. intervention in Central America. With all eyes focussed on the Persian Gulf, CISPES continues to protest the escalating violence and human rights abuses in El Salvador-and has been the target of a renewed campaign of federal intimidation.

On Feb. 15, five CISPES activists and one photographer from the impact Visuals agency were arrested by FBI agents during a civil disobedience action at the Salvadoran consulate in New York City. The charges of "intimidating and threatening an official foreign officer" are still pending, but CISPES sees the use of this federal law as a mere expedient justification for having the approximately 15 federal agents on hand.

CISPES spokesperson Adam Flint says he was "very surprised" by the presence of the FBI agents and the imposition of federal charges. "It's never happened in New York before with respect to our organization. We have a long record of nonviolence. We don't threaten or intimidate."-

The FBI as a long history o operation with the New York Police Department (NYPD) on "counter-terrorist" and drug enforcement operations, most notably the FBI-NYPD joint Terrorist Task Force which has been involved in campaigns against Puerto Rican and black nationalist groups.

On Jan. 11, with war looming mere days away, this cooperation was stepped up as FBI and NYPD held a two-hour Metropolitan Security Seminar attended by representatives of most of the city's major businesses and transportation administrators, including the Transit Authority, Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority, Port Authority, Rockefeller Center, New York Stock Exchange, AT&T, Citicorp, Philip Morris, Macys, major airlines, ABC, NBC and CBS.

At the meeting, NYPD Commissioner Lee Brown outlined the workings of the joint Terrorist Task Force, and announced that a section of the NYPD's "War Room" command center at I Police Plaza would be used to monitor terrorist threats in the city. The command center, which few New Yorkers had previously known about, was described in news reports of the meeting as paneled with large video screens displaying computer maps of the city-a sort of small-scale version of the ultra-secretive War Room in the Pentagon, depicted in Stanley Kubric's movie Dr. Strangelove, or the Air Force's North American Aerospace Defense, sequestered under Mt. Cheyenne in Colorado.

1 Police Plaza also houses the nerve center of the New York City Office of Emergency Management, the city agency linked to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and charged with coordinating response from anything to inner city riots to nuclear war. The New York State National Guard Division of Naval & Military Affairs also runs a State Emergency Management Office (SEMO), headquartered in Albany and poised to respond to statewide crises.

The Office of Emergency Management was involved in a police action in the immediate prelude of the war-but the action had nothing to do with combating terrorism. Dec. 4, 1990, 52 mostly Latino squatter families in the South Bronx associated with a self-help organization known as Inner City Press were forcibly evicted from their homes by the NYPD.

In order to carry out the eviction, hundreds of riot police supported by fire engines, buses, communication vehicles and ambulances descended onto the block. In addition to the police vehicles was a high-tech bus from the City Office of Emergency Management. The bus sported a remote control video camera mounted on its roof, which seemed to be taping the entire operation.

The NYPD has links to the CIA as well as the FBI and FEMA. In 1986, The New York Times reported that the CIA was recruiting NYPD personnel for covert operations abroad.

Then NYPD Commissioner Benjamin Ward told the Times that then CIA Director Bill Casey "informed us that the CIA was "interested in hiring... police officers who' had backgrounds in handling undercover operations or who had been undercover operators themselves." Counter-terrorism activities were specifically cited, and one NYPD, spokesperson said that over 200 detectives and investigators in "special units" had expressed interest in the CIA jobs. Seventeen other major municipal police departments had also been reportedly targeted for recruitment by the CIA, including those of Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In light of this record, many antiwar activists are now wondering if "national security" isn't as much of a euphemism for domestic repression as "collateral damage" is for civilian casualties.

*With Bill Weinberg

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