News Release

Documents Expose FBI’s Targeting of School of the Americas Watch

ENDRIK VOSS, hvoss at soaw.org
BILL QUIGLEY, quigley77 at gmail.com
MARA VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD, mvh at justiceonline.org
Voss is the national organizer for the School of the Americas Watch; Quigly is an attorney for the SOA Watch Legal Collective; Verheyden-Hilliard is the executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. Today the School of Americas Watch (SOAW) released a statement:

“For at least a decade, the FBI, through local law enforcement, utilized counter-terrorism authority to conduct a widespread surveillance and monitoring operation of School of Americas Watch (SOAW), a nonviolent activist organization founded by pacifists working to close the School of the Americas, later renamed the Western Hemisphere for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

“Each November, SOAW organizes peaceful vigils and protests in Fort Benning, Ga., where the U.S. Army trains Latin American military officials and dictators responsible for the massacres of opposition groups, the creation of torture centers, and many other known crimes against humanity. Training at the SOA has continued despite public knowledge of graduates engaging in extrajudicial executions and repressing social movements in countries like Chile, Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico.

“The lawyers from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund obtained the redacted documents from the FBI’s Field Office in Atlanta on behalf of SOA Watch. In the ten years of redacted documents, the FBI repeatedly admitted to SOAW’s ‘peaceful intentions.’ Regardless of this acknowledgement, the FBI continued to monitor for the potential of ‘more aggressive protest participants,’ ‘factions of a radical cell,’ and/or other pre-textual alarmist warnings to justify spying on protected First Amendment political activity.” You can read the FBI documents obtained by SOAW and a summary of them here. Also, see from Marcy Wheeler: “How to Make Peaceful Protestors of America’s Torture School Look Like Terrorists.”

The group added: “The uncovered documents show the bureau continued to deploy its Domestic Intelligence Terrorism Squad to monitor activity within the organization using confidential informants inside the movement to gather information. In addition, the FBI’s headquarters and counter-terrorism units were requested to provide the FBI’s Field Office in Atlanta with ‘all intelligence relevant to the SOA, so that this information can be provided to local/military law enforcement agencies.’ The vague, unspecified threat of future violence functioned as the annual excuse for the surveillance of peaceful dissent.”

Verheyden-Hilliard said today: “This unconscionable abuse by the FBI to use its counter-terrorism authority against peaceful political movements — from SOAW, to Occupy, to Black Lives Matter — makes it clear that the FBI cannot be its own watchdog, nor self-regulate. It is time for there to be legislatively enacted prohibitions on the FBI’s use of domestic terrorism authority against peaceful protest and First Amendment-protected free speech activities in the United States,”

SOAW added: “The FBI’s pattern of unwarranted surveillance, allusions to violence, and subsequent reports of peaceful activity continued for years. From 2000 through 2009, undercover agents and confidential informants consistently reported that SOAW-organized protests and vigils were ‘uneventful,’ ‘never expressed or exhibited a propensity for violence,’ and that ‘there has never been any significant incident of violence or widespread property damage.’ FOIA documents ultimately conclude that the demonstrations could comparatively be described as a ‘street festival.’ These documents once again reveal the true role of the FBI functioning as a political surveillance and intelligence operation that uses domestic terrorism authority against peaceful protesters and organizations.”

“SOAW activists from across the Americas are not intimidated, and will once again converge at Fort Benning, Georgia from November 20-22 to speak out against repressive U.S. policies, and to engage in nonviolent direct action (see SOAW.org/november).”