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*
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.