By Anonymous (not verified) on June 21, 2011

The FBI should not be given more power to spy on dissenters in America. In fact, it should not have that power at all.

Once upon a time, the FBI could investigate a person or organization only when the agency had reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. This crucial requirement came about after the revelations of massive FBI abuse in the 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1976, Sen. Frank Church of Idaho held hearings on FBI wrongdoing. The Church Committee’s findings shed crucial light.

In the wake of the hearings, the attorney general of the United States drafted guidelines that mandated a criminal predicate before the FBI could launch an investigation. While often honored in the breach, and watered down over the years, until 9/11 this requirement served as a crucial bulwark against FBI intrusion into our protected First Amendment activities.

Unfortunately after the Sept. 11 attacks, first under Attorney General John Ashcroft and then under Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the requirement of a criminal predicate was removed. As a result, the FBI and other anti-terrorist agencies spied on many forms of legitimate protest and dissent. For example, pacifist groups such as the Thomas Merton Center and Catholic Worker were investigated under the rubric of domestic terrorism.

Protests have been a special target. For instance, 15 months prior to the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., a specially created FBI Intelligence Center began to spy on, and place informants in, groups it suspected were going to participate in demonstrations.

President Obama campaigned on protecting our civil liberties, so you might have expected his attorney general, Eric Holder, to provide people with greater protections from FBI snoops. But he has not. And it is about to get even worse.

The new Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide will empower the FBI to dispatch surveillance teams, to follow targets, to dig through trash, to search commercial databases and to expand the use of informants to infiltrate a wide range of organizations.

If you are part of a group that disagrees with government policy in Iraq or Afghanistan, or that dislikes nuclear energy, the next time you throw out your trash, an FBI agent may be examining it a few hours later — from what you eat to what you buy to what you read and think.

The next time you attend a meeting to fight for better schools, protest drug testing on animals or criticize almost any aspect of government policy, the person next to you may be an informant, recording everything you say. Or perhaps the informant will participate in the meeting, steering the organization’s activities in ways the government wishes.

It is now almost ten years after 9/11, the event that frightened many into giving the FBI broad spying authority — authority that now threatens the very essence of democracy. Piece by piece, the constitutional protections for dissent are disappearing.

It’s time for new congressional hearings, similar to the Church Committee’s, on FBI spying. We must protest the new expanded powers about to be bestowed on the FBI and follow that with a demand to Attorney General Holder for new guidelines ensuring that dissent and protest will be off-limits to the FBI.

Michael Ratner is the president and Margaret Ratner Kunstler is former education director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. They are the co-authors of “Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century” and can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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