Throughout its history, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has used its expansive powers to investigate, monitor, and surveil First Amendment-protected activity. As early as 1924, public concern about the FBI’s violation of First Amendment rights and other civil liberties spurred official attempts to check the FBI’s power. This report covers FBI surveillance of political activity over roughly the past decade. We find that the FBI has repeatedly monitored civil society groups, including racial justice movements, Occupy Wall Street, environmentalists, Palestinian solidarity activists, Abolish ICE protesters, and Cuba and Iran normalization proponents. Additionally, FBI agents conducted interviews that critics have argued were designed to chill protests at the Republican National Convention or intimidate Muslim-American voters.
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Read the report to understand how pervasive and persistent FBI surveillance is, then take action!
The report exposes FBI political surveillance as systemic and part of a wider pattern of abuse, and documents how the FBI frequently cites its counterterrorism authorities when spying on non-violent protest groups. It also documents how the groups targeted by the FBI are frequently peace, racial justice, environmental, and economic justice advocates. It’s part of a broader problem where the FBI treats dissent as the enemy. And that’s not a new problem. As the report shows, from its inception the FBI has continuously engaged in this type of political surveillance. The Intercept shared the report with the FBI. The response was not surprising:
After reviewing the report, a spokesperson for the FBI wrote in a statement to The Intercept that every activity the FBI conducts “must uphold the Constitution and be carried out in accordance with federal laws.” The spokesperson added that the bureau’s investigative activities “may not be based solely on the exercise of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment” and that its methods “are subject to multiple layers of oversight.” On its website, the bureau calls the Palmer Raids “certainly not a bright spot for the young Bureau” but adds that they did allow it to “gain valuable experience in terrorism investigations and intelligence work and learn important lessons about the need to protect civil liberties and constitutional rights.”
This report is authored by Chip Gibbons. Chip has served as the policy and legislative counsel for Rights & Dissent and has advised both state and federal lawmakers on the First Amendment implications of pending legislation. He’s also a journalist. His writings on the FBI have appeared in The Washington Post, The Nation, In These Times, and Jacobin. He’s conducted original research into political surveillance through FOIA and archival records requests. He was even a plaintiff in a lawsuit that caused the FBI to agree to release thousands of pages pertaining to surveillance of activists groups in the US (something you may be hearing more about in the coming weeks!). He brought this wide ranging skillset and breadth of knowledge to this truly interdisciplinary report.
This report is a meticulously documented accounting of what we know about FBI political surveillance. But we only know what we do because of FOIA, leaks, activists coming forward, and intrepid investigative reporting. Of course, the FBI is very good at hiding things from the public. Our report not only documents FBI surveillance, but FBI obfuscation.
Most importantly, our report is a call to action. It is well past time for Congress to shine light on exactly what’s taking place at the J. Edgar Hoover Building.