The FBI improperly opened and extended investigations of some U.S. activist groups and put members of an environmental advocacy organization on a terrorist watch list, even though they were planning nonviolent civil disobedience, the Justice Department said Monday.
A report by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine absolved the FBI of the most serious allegation against it: that agents targeted domestic groups based on their exercise of First Amendment rights. Civil liberties groups and congressional Democrats had suggested that the FBI employed such tactics during the George W. Bush administration, which triggered Fine's review.
But the report cited what it called other "troubling" FBI practices in its monitoring of domestic groups in the years between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and 2006. In some cases, Fine said, agents began investigations of people affiliated with activist groups for "factually weak" reasons.
In others, the report said, the FBI extended probes "without adequate basis" and improperly kept information about activist groups in its files. Among the groups monitored were the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh peace group; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; and Greenpeace USA. Activists affiliated with Greenpeace were improperly put on a terrorist watch list, the report said.
Any folks on the right who want to dismiss the seriousness of the surveillance because it's aimed at lefty fringe groups might want to pause and think about how, say, Tea Party activities might be viewed by the FBI. The surveillance state doesn't tend to be that discriminating.