Wednesday, December 21, 2005

John Perazzo: The New York Times-ACLU War on National Security

John Perazzo
December 21, 2005

When many were counting the mainstream media irrelevant, the New York Times proved its ability to frame the political debate, undermine national security, and possibly force Americans to lose the War on Terror. The Gray Lady held a story about the Bush administration’s authorizing the National Agency to wiretap international phone calls involving al-Qaeda agents, even if one of the parties lived in the United States, for more than a year, releasing the topic to promote a book written by Times reporter James Risen. This – happily, from the NYT’s point of view – coincided with the weekend the Senate was to debate the Patriot Act, resulting in a Democratic filibuster. Although the Bush administration appears to have done nothing illegal (see Ben Johnson’s story on that topic in this issue), the Times has teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to keep this story alive by adding a “new” story: the ACLU claims the Bush administration is spying on American leftists.

In an article entitled “FBI Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show,” the Times reports that the ACLU has gained access to (and plans to make public) more than 2,300 pages of FBI file information on some 150 protest and activist groups that, according to the ACLU, it alleges may have been unlawfully monitored. The information centers on a handful of groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Greenpeace, and Catholic Workers, the latter of which the Times describes as an organization “which promotes antipoverty efforts and social causes.” The article quotes ACLU associate legal director Ann Beeson stating:

It's clear that this administration has engaged every possible agency, from the Pentagon to [the] NSA to the FBI, to engage in spying on Americans. You look at these documents and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in FBI files that they're talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology.

This was one of several stories the Times floated yesterday to equate George W. Bush with Big Brother. An editorial also accused the administration of “using terrorism as an excuse to spy on Americans.” Ant the NYT ran an AP article headlined, “ACLU Says FBI Misuses Terror Powers,” in which the reporter notes again the ACLU has “accused the FBI of misusing terrorism investigators to monitor some domestic political organizations,” and quotes ACLU attorney Ben Wizner lamenting potential abuses.

First of all, this is not a new story: this is the follow-up to a string of vacuous allegations the ACLU began to make in July. As Ben Johnson pointed out, the original investigations involved street violence left-wing groups planned or threatened during the 2004 political conventions, including a desire to “Bring Najaf to New York.”

The probe, in July just as this week, examined Green leftist groups such as PETA and Greenpeace for obvious reasons: many such organizations commit illegal acts or have ties to those who do. The federal government was concerned that members of Greenpeace and PETA lend support to the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, the two most destructive domestic terror entities in the United States. Thus an investigation into these organizations was neither unreasonable nor illegal. And contrary to Ann Beeson’s benign description, Catholic Workers is indeed a pro-communist, anti-capitalist entity, claiming that “private and state capitalism bring about an unjust distribution of wealth, for the profit motive guides decisions. Those in power live off the sweat of others' brows, while those without power are robbed of a just return for their work.”

It is also possible the government investigated the Green Left for reasons other than suspected ties to terror. “Just being referenced in an FBI file is not tantamount to being the subject of an investigation,” said John Miller, a spokesman for the bureau. “The FBI does not target individuals or organizations for investigation based on their political beliefs. Everything we do is carefully promulgated by federal law, Justice Department guidelines and the FBI’s own rules.” But as far as the ACLU is concerned, the mere existence of FBI files on these organizations reeks of McCarthyism.

More importantly, this story has absolutely nothing to do with the Bush administration’s spying on al-Qaeda, except as the Times hopes to smear the president. The Justice Department merely gave the FBI (not the NSA) mildly enhanced powers to collect intelligence on domestic terrorists, the ELFs, ALFs, and Timothy McVeighs of the world. This authority included “greater ability to visit and monitor Web sites, mosques and other public entities.” FBI agents surfing internet pages millions of others may be viewing at the same time constitutes Gestapo tactics? According to the ACLU: yes.

And again, the Bush administration is on sound legal footing when it collects intelligence on al-Qaeda operatives. It should be noted that notwithstanding the ACLU’s posturing, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows the President to do precisely what his critics have condemned him for doing. The relevant section of FISA reads, “[T]he President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year,” provided that there is strict congressional oversight in the intelligence committees, and that the surveillance is directed only at agents of foreign powers. Mr. Bush says he has complied with these laws. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales explains:

People are running around saying that the United States is somehow spying on American citizens calling their neighbors. In fact, the program is limited to calls and communications between the United States and foreign countries…What we're trying to do is learn of communications, back and forth, from within the United States to overseas members of al-Qaeda…This is not about wiretapping everybody. This is about a very concentrated, very limited program focused on gaining information about our enemy.

One would never know this if he depended upon the ACLU’s skewed version of reality for his information.

Gonzales also expressed great concern that the news leak regarding President Bush’s authorization of domestic spying “is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised.” But the Times and the ACLU could not care less.

Who Is the ACLU?

Although it piously characterizes itself as America's “guardian of liberty,” the ACLU consistently sides with the terrorists in any matter involving the U.S. government. Since 9/11, the ACLU has led a coalition of civil liberties groups in promoting non-cooperation with the provisions of the Patriot Act. (As of today, 400 municipalities and states have adopted the ACLU resolution of non-cooperation.) In July 2003, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging Section 215 of the Act, portraying it as an egregious invasion of personal privacy in the tradition of what would be expected from a totalitarian state.

The ACLU described a scenario where, because of Section 215, “the FBI could spy on a person because they don't like the books she reads, or because they don't like the websites she visits. They could spy on her because she wrote a letter to the editor that criticized government policy.” Said ACLU attorney Ann Beeson, “Ordinary Americans should not have to worry that the FBI is rifling through their medical records, seizing their personal papers, or forcing charities and advocacy groups to divulge membership lists.” But as Heather MacDonald points out, “grand juries investigating crimes have always been able to subpoena the very items covered by [Section] 215 – including library records and Internet logs – without seeking a warrant or indeed any judicial approval at all. Section 215 merely gives anti-terror investigators the same access to such records as criminal grand juries, with the added protection of judicial oversight.”

The ACLU’s description of a scenario where an FBI agent could simply storm into a library and demand records is a caricature of the most ludicrous kind. Before it can even make a request for such information, the FBI must first go through several levels of bureaucratic review. It must convince the FISA court (which oversees anti-terror investigations) that an individual is knowingly engaged in terrorism or espionage, and that the documents it seeks are relevant to the fight “against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

But Section 215 of the Patriot Act represents just one of the many fronts in the ACLU's assault on national security, an assault that has been broad and relentless:

· The ACLU was a signatory, along with the pro-Castro Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), to a March 17, 2003 letter urging members of Congress to oppose the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, also known as Patriot Act II.

· The ACLU joined CCR in endorsing the Community Resolution to Protect Civil Liberties campaign and the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004 – both measures unambiguously hostile to the Patriot Act.

· When the INS and Justice Department instituted a program requiring males visiting the U.S. from Arab and Muslim nations to register with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, the ACLU organized protests against what it called this “discriminatory” policy.

· The ACLU protested an FBI anti-terrorism initiative to count and document every mosque in America, even though such houses of worship are frequently used as recruitment bases for Islamic jihad.

· On the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, when FBI and Homeland Security agents were tracking down illegal Iraqi immigrants considered to be dangerous, the ACLU set up a telephone hotline and conducted “Know Your Rights” training sessions giving illegals free advice on how to avoid deportation.

· In a 2002 federal lawsuit naming Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta as a defendant, the ACLU challenged a new Aviation Transportation Security Act policy prohibiting non-citizens from working as airport security screeners.

· In conjunction with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) -- a Hamas spinoff, several of whose leaders have been indicted for, and convicted of, terrorist activities – the ACLU has lobbied hard against the heightened scrutiny of individuals from terrorism-sponsoring countries at airports and border checkpoints. “Profiles are notoriously under-inclusive,” says ACLU legislative counsel Gregory Nojeim. “Who knows who the next terrorist will appear as? It could be a grandmother. It could be a student. We just don't know.”

· The ACLU opposes the Computer-Assisted Passenger Profiling System (CAPPS) used by airlines to check for various passenger characteristics that have historically been correlated with terrorist motives. In late 1997, when the CAPPS system was first set to be put in place, the ACLU set up a special online complaint form to collect information on incidents of alleged discrimination and mistreatment by airport security personnel. As Gregory Nojeim explained, his organization was “concerned that the CAPPS system will have an unequal impact on some passengers, resulting in their being selected for treatment as potential terrorists based on their race, religion or national origin.”

· Consistent with its belief that the U.S. is a nation infested with racism and injustice, the ACLU of Southern California endorsed an October 22, 2002, National Day of Protest exhorting Americans to demonstrate against their country’s “resoundingly repressive atmosphere,” where “[h]ard-won civil liberties and protections have been stripped away as part of the government's ‘war on terrorism.’” In a document publicizing this event, the ACLU explicitly defended terrorist-supporters such as Lynne Stewart and Jose Padilla, and murderers like Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Leonard Peltier – depicting them as persecuted political prisoners of a repressive American government.

· The ACLU's Immigration Task Force is a driving factor behind the Open Borders Lobby, its efforts serving to increase the likelihood that aspiring terrorists can enter the U.S. with impunity.

· The ACLU has opposed all Justice Department proposals to fingerprint and track immigrants and foreign visitors to the United States, claiming that such measures “treat immigrant populations as a separate and quasi-criminal element of society.”

· The ACLU opposes a Justice Department initiative that would give local and state police the power to enforce immigration laws. “Local police should not be in the business of detaining or arresting law-abiding aliens based on their immigration status,” says Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

· The ACLU opposes the Computer-Assisted Passenger Profiling System (CAPPS) used by airlines to check for various passenger characteristics that have historically been correlated with terrorist motives. In late 1997, when the CAPPS system was first set to be put in place, the ACLU set up a special online complaint form to collect information on incidents of discrimination and mistreatment by airport security personnel.

· To prevent heightened scrutiny of passengers whose profiles suggest the possibility of involvement in terrorism, the ACLU has represented many Muslim plaintiffs in discrimination lawsuits against the airline industry.

· The Texas chapter of the ACLU was a signatory to a February 20, 2002 document, composed by the radical group Refuse & Resist – condemning military tribunals and the detention of immigrants apprehended in connection with post-9/11 terrorism investigations. It should be noted that Refuse & Resist is a front group for the Revolutionary Communist Party and was founded by the longtime Maoist, Charles Clark Kissinger.

· The ACLU has given its organizational endorsement to the Community Resolution to Protect Civil Liberties campaign, a project of the California-based Coalition for Civil Liberties (CCL). The CCL tries to influence city councils to pass resolutions creating Civil Liberties Safe Zones; that is, to be non-compliant with the provisions of the Patriot Act.

· The ACLU endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act (CLRA) of 2004, which was introduced by Democrats Ted Kennedy, Patrick Leahy, Russell Feingold, Richard Durbin, Jon Corzine, Howard Berman, and William Delahunt. The CLRA was designed to roll back, in the name of protecting civil liberties, vital national-security policies that had been adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

· In August 2005, it was reported that the Pentagon was permitting ACLU lawyers to sit in on interrogations of the al Qaeda and Taliban enemy combatants being held in Guantanamo; in the majority of cases, these attorneys advised the prisoners that they were under no obligation to answer military interrogators' questions.

On many occasions, the ACLU has publicly and proactively defended individuals accused of serious terrorism-related offenses. In 2003, for example, it held rallies on behalf of an Intel software engineer in Oregon named Maher Mofeid Hawash, who U.S. officials were keeping in custody on suspicion that he had given material support to Taliban and al-Qaeda forces fighting American troops in Afghanistan. In February 2004, Hawash was convicted of the aforementioned crimes and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

The ACLU also rushed to the defense of University of South Florida Professor Sami al-Arian, who once served as the North American head of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). In an effort to thwart the government's investigation of al-Arian's role in funding PIJ suicide bombings in Israel, the ACLU said that the search warrants authorizing an FBI raid of his home and offices were overly broad, and that the vast number of items seized as evidence should therefore be returned to him. The FBI had compiled eight years of incriminating wiretaps and intercepted faxes to make its case against al-Arian. The 120-page Justice Department indictment enumerated some 200 specific acts connecting al-Arian to terrorism.

The indictment further charged that Al-Arian maintained connections to the aforementioned Omar Abdel Rahman; Hamas official Mohammed Sakr; the high-ranking Sudanese terrorist Hassan Turbai; and Islamic Jihad co-founder Abdel Aziz-Odeh. Though earlier this month al-Arian was acquitted of having acted “in furtherance of” terrorist attacks, he admitted during his trial that he did indeed have a close working relationship with PIJ, and that soon after President Clinton had signed an executive order prohibiting financial and material support of PIJ, al-Arian wrote a letter to a Kuwaiti legislator exhorting him to provide “support of the jihad effort in Palestine so that [suicide] operations such as these can continue.”

The ACLU’s support of terrorists is by no means restricted to foreign-born Islamists. Indeed the organization named unrepentant New Left terrorist Bernardine Dohrn to its advisory board. Dohrn, along with her husband Bill Ayers, was a 1960s anti-American militant and leader of the homegrown terrorist group the Weathermen (later known as the Weather Underground) – described by Ayers as “an American Red Army.” The organization’s objective was to launch a race war in America, and thereby hasten an Armageddon in which the Third World would wreak its revenge on the proverbial “Amerikkkan” beast. The Weathermen bombed the U.S. Capitol building, New York City Police Headquarters, the Pentagon, and the National Guard offices in Washington, D.C. At a 1969 “War Council” meeting to form a terrorist underground held in Flint, Michigan, Dohrn held her fingers up in a fork salute and said of the murders committed by Charles Manson and his gang: “Dig it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach! Wild!”

Dohrn is currently a clinical associate professor at Northwestern University Law School; her anti-Americanism remains as profound as ever. “During your student years here,” Dohrn said to her students recently, “the cruelly brutal, criminal attacks of September 11, 2001, the shredded economy and loss of jobs, the consequences of deregulation and devolution that bankrupted state and local governments, the relentless punishment and imprisoning of over two million people in America, flagrant corporate plunder and criminality, rolling blackouts, the apparently permanent war on terrorism, the shock and awe occupation of Iraq, systematic and degrading detention without trial, torture and extra-judicial assassinations, and the establishment of a crescent of new U.S. military bases across the Middle East and South Asia -- all have transformed whatever blissful illusions were harbored as you entered college.”

The ACLU also came to the defense of radical attorney Lynne Stewart, who in February 2005 was convicted on charges that she had illegally “facilitated and concealed communications” between her client, the incarcerated “blind sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman, and members of his Egyptian terrorist organization, the Islamic Group, which has ties to al Qaeda. Rahman had masterminded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and had planned, in addition, to blow up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and the George Washington Bridge during New York's rush hour; the latter plot was thwarted by the FBI. Rahman’s ideals were entirely consistent with those of Stewart, who once told a New York Times reporter:

“I don't believe in anarchistic violence, but in directed violence. That would be violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism, and sexism, and the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions, and accompanied by popular support.”

On February 17 of this year, just after Stewart had been convicted and sentenced for her crimes, the ACLU of Massachusetts declared that “the prosecution of Lynne Stewart is a chilling testament to what is being done to individual rights and to the rule of law itself in the name of ‘fighting terrorism.’ The right to the assistance of counsel is central to the guarantee of a fair trial, but that right is under attack. U.S. citizens termed ‘enemy combatants’ have been held for years without access to lawyers and the courts, as have those detained at Guantanamo…The ACLU of Massachusetts deplores the undermining of lawyer-client confidentiality by the Justice Department, and maintains that the ‘Special Administrative Measure’ (SAM), which Lynne Stewart was found guilty of violating, is fundamentally inconsistent with the Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel.”

When Dwight Sullivan, who had spent six years working for the ACLU, was appointed in July 2005 to be chief defense counsel for the military tribunals at Guantanamo, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero cheerfully predicted that Sullivan “will bring renewed energy to the defense team at a critical time in the proceedings. He uniquely possesses substantial knowledge of military law and deep commitment to civil liberties.”

Exactly who were the individuals whose civil liberties Sullivan would be safeguarding so vigorously? They were: (a) David Hicks (a.k.a. Mohammed Dawood), an Australian-born member of Lashkar-I-Taiba, an al Qaeda-affiliated group of Kashmiri terrorists headquartered in Pakistan. (b) Salim Hamdan, who worked as Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard, and who was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001; (c) Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a key al Qaeda propagandist and also a bin Laden bodyguard, who produced recruitment and motivational videos glorifying the murder of Americans; and (d) Ibrahim al-Qosi, a Sudanese accountant who served variously as a cook, driver, and bodyguard for bin Laden, and who helped funnel money to al Qaeda for explosives and weapons.Wherever the ACLU looks, it sees evidence of American wrongdoing. Whoever the adversary may be in any international dispute involving the United States, one can be certain that the ACLU will side with that party. In a May 2004 letter to President Bush, the ACLU called the prisoner abuses at the Abu Ghraib detention center in Iraq a “predictable result” of unlawful American policies, and demanded that the U.S. government comply immediately with the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act request for information on the reported “torture” of detainees.

“Abu Ghraib wasn't the result of a couple of lone sadists in the military -- it was a direct and easily foreseen consequence of detention policies that lack transparency and safeguards against this type of abuse,” said Anthony Romero. “In America, the war on terrorism quickly became a war on immigrants, where the rule of law was ignored. Abu Ghraib is just another example of what happens when the White House sets itself as above the law in national security matters. Not only is our sense of right and wrong offended, our safety is also endangered as the world turns against us.”

In January 2005, the ACLU similarly alleged (against compelling evidence to the contrary) that prisoners captured in the War on Terror were being tortured in Guantanamo Bay. “Shameful as it is, the full story of our government's sanctioned torture and abuse of detainees must see the light of day if we are to ever restore our reputation as a nation dedicated to the rule of law,” said Romero. But contrary to his feigned reluctance to bring attention to this “shameful” saga, Romero is in fact consistently eager to do so.

As demonstrated by the evidence presented in this essay, the ACLU’s tireless efforts to undermine American security are rooted not in its purported love for liberty, but rather in its burning hatred for the United States. In that sense, little has changed since the organization was first established in 1920. As co-founder Roger Baldwin candidly stated years after having launched his group, “I am for socialism, disarmament, and ultimately, for abolishing the state itself as an instrument of violence and compulsion. I seek social ownership of property, the abolition of the properties class, and sole control of those who produce wealth. Communism is the goal. It all sums up into one single purpose -- the abolition of dog-eat-dog under which we live. I don't regret being part of the communist tactic. I knew what I was doing. I was not an innocent liberal. I wanted what the communists wanted and I traveled the United Front road to get it.”

The New York Times, like the rest of the leftwing media, does not tell readers this part of the ACLU story. Instead it depicts the organization as a revered civil liberties icon and defender of the vulnerable. Thus, a group devoted to the very destruction of America succeeds in portraying itself as the guardian of American values and freedoms.

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John Perazzo is the author of The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations. For more information on his book, click here. E-mail him at

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