FBI agents monitored Web sites calling for protests against the 2004 political
conventions in New York and Boston on behalf of the bureau's counterterrorism
unit, according to FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union pointed to the documents as evidence that
the Bush administration has reacted to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
on the United States by blurring the distinction between terrorism and political
protest. FBI officials defended the involvement of counterterrorism agents in
providing security for the Republican and Democratic conventions as an administrative
The documents were released by the FBI in response to a lawsuit filed by a
coalition of civil rights, animal rights and environmental groups that say they
have been subjected to scrutiny by task forces set up to combat terrorism. The
FBI has denied targeting the groups because of their political views.
"It's increasingly clear that the government is involved in political
surveillance of organizations that are involved in nothing more than lawful
First Amendment activities," said Anthony Romero, executive director of
the ACLU. "It raises very serious questions about whether the FBI is back
to its old tricks."
A Sept. 4, 2003, document addressed to the FBI counterterrorism unit described
plans by a group calling itself RNC Not Welcome to "disrupt" the 2004
Republican National Convention in New York. It also described Internet postings
from an umbrella organization known as United for Peace and Justice, which was
coordinating worldwide protests against the convention.
"It's one thing to monitor protests and protest organizers, but quite
another thing to refer them to your counterterrorism unit," said Leslie
Cagan, national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice.
Another document, addressed to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which coordinates
anti-terrorist activities by the FBI and local police forces, described threats
to disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Responding to the lawsuit filed in May in U.S. District Court in Washington,
the FBI said it had identified 1,173 pages of records relating to the ACLU and
2,383 pages relating to Greenpeace. The content of the records, which were generated
since 2001, is not known.
FBI spokesmen declined to discuss the case on the record on the grounds that
it is being adjudicated. Speaking on background, an FBI official said that many
of the records were routine correspondence. He said the FBI counterterrorism
unit received reports on possible threats to the 2004 political conventions
because of its role in ensuring security.