Posts Tagged ‘fbi’
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on Civil Liberties, Inspiring Moments in Resistance
Last Friday on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Maher interviewed Wiileaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
They discuss the illegal investigation of Wikileaks the FBI tried to carry out in London, the federal grand jury in Virginia looking at charging Assange with terrorism and the legislation Senator Joe Lieberman proposed declaring all Wikileaks staff as “enemy combatants” to enable their imprisonment at Guantanamo.
They also discuss Obama’s kill list, which according to Assange, enables the US government to assassinate its own citizens, arbitrarily, at will, in secret, without any of the decision making becoming public.”
Read more and watch the full interview at Raw Story
Crossposted at Daily Censored
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on Civil Liberties, Inspiring Moments in Resistance
On January 30, 2013, WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson reported that FBI agents who entered Iceland in August 2011 to investigate Iceland’s WikiLeaks operations had been ejected from the country by Home Secretary Ögmundur Jónasson. Janasson considered it unbelievably presumptuous for a foreign power to assume they could conduct private investigations of Icelandic citizens in their own country. On learning of their presence, he immediately ordered them to pack and leave.
There is already considerable sensitivity in Iceland that the FBI obtained account information from Twitter – presumably to assist in Obama’s efforts to indict Julian Assange on “terrorism” charges – on Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir. Jónsdóttir refuses to travel to the US out of fear of being arrested for her connections with WikiLeaks. She is one of the sponsors of Icelandic media legislation which would make the country a bastion for freedom of speech and source protection.
Jónsdóttir has also been a prominent member of the peaceful revolution Iceland has undergone over the past five years, following a popular uprising resulting from the global economic crisis. Widespread popular unrest forced Iceland ‘s prime minister and parliament to resign, resulting in new elections and ultimately a referendum opposing the government decision to assume a 3,500 million Euro debt their private banks owed to Great Britain and Holland.
Two other outcomes of this nonviolent revolution were the arrest and prosecution of key bankers responsible for Iceland’s banking crisis and the creation of an assembly to rewrite Iceland’s constitution.
Read more here
Crossposted at Daily Censored
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on Civil Liberties, Electoral reform
If video won’t play go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ybl9roaHe0
Investigative reporter Greg Palast is on a speaking tour for his latest book Billionaires and Bandits: How to Steal and Election in 9 Easy Steps. Palast is best known for exposing the so-called “ex-felon” scrub list that deliberately disenfranchised tens of thousands of law abiding African Americans from voting in the 2000 presidential election in Florida. From his interview on RealNews, I suspect Billionaires and Bandits is probably his most important expose. In it he reveals, for the first time, the true motivation behind the Citizens United case, in which a small group of right wing activists obtained a Supreme Court ruling removing any limitation on corporate donations to political campaigns.
According to Palast, the real agenda behind the Supreme Court case was to keep the notorious Koch brothers (major founders and funders of conservative thinktanks like the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, the CATO Institute, and right wing Astroturf groups, such as the Campaign for America’s Future, the Campaign for a Fair Economy and the Tea Party) out of jail for illegal corporate donations they had made to Republican campaigns. In other words, the ruling decriminalized extensive lawbreaking by the Republican Party’s favorite billionaires. Palast stresses it was no accident that Ted Olsen, the Citizens United attorney, also happens to be legal counsel for Koch Industries.
The Koch Brothers’ Long History of Flouting the Law
As Palast reveals at the beginning of the interview, he was an FBI investigator prior to becoming an investigative journalist. During the late eighties, he was directly involved in investigating Charles Koch for illegally siphoning oil (beyond what Koch Industries had for) from Indian reservations. According to Palast, the FBI had videos of the whole operation, as well as numerous witness statements, including one from David and Charles’ younger brother Bill. The US attorney in Oklahoma had already filed an indictment against subject 67C (their code name for Charles Koch) when Koch leaned heavily on Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles (R 1988-2005) who exerted pressure to have the federal prosecutor replaced and had the indictment quashed.
With the possibility of criminal prosecution off the table, brother Bill Koch filed a civil lawsuit over the oil theft under the False Claims Act, which allows private plaintiffs to sue, on behalf of the government, companies and individuals which have defrauded it.
In December 1999, the jury found that Koch Industries had taken oil it didn’t pay for from federal land, and the company paid a $25 million settlement to the federal government.
The FBI next turned its attention to 350 criminal violations of environmental law, mainly due to faulty pipelines dumping oil sludge into rivers. After George W. Bush became president in 2000, the US Justice Department dropped 88 of the charges. Two days before the trial, Attorney General John Ashcroft settled for a plea bargain, in which the company pled guilty to falsifying documents. All major charges were dropped, and Koch and Ashcroft settled the lawsuit for a fraction of that amount.
The FBI – and Congress – Investigate Illegal Corporate Donations
Next on the FBI list of crimes was the smear campaign Koch Industries secretly funded, through Campaign for Our Children’s Futures, in 1994, when corporate campaign donations were still illegal. The campaign, which caused 25 incumbent Democrats to lose their seats, also caused Clinton to lose control of Congress in the 1994 midterms and again in 1996. The illegal campaign donations were funded through an entity called Triad Management Services. Senator Fred Thompson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee attempted to undertake an investigation into Triad. According to Palast, it was shut down the same day Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (who was also seriously ethically challenged) made a deal with President Bill Clinton not to investigate his illegal campaign donations from the Indonesian billionaire James Riady.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on Civil Liberties
Last March, I blogged about Kim Dotcom , the Internet multimillionaire the FBI is trying to extradite to the US on Internet piracy charges. In brief the FBI is accusing the founder of Mega Upload of illegal file sharing and copyright violation. Dotcom, much of the New Zealand media and Internet freedom activist Jacob Appelbaum contend that the US government has no case.
If Dotcom’s Guilty, So Is YouTube
If Dotcom is guilty, so are dozens of other “cloud” Internet providers (for example YouTube) that provide bandwidth for uploading and sharing large files. Like YouTube, Dotcom deliberately built a number of precautionary measures into Mega Upload to protect the motion picture and music industry against illegal file sharing that violates their copyright protections. The first is the Terms of Service Agreement all Mega Upload users were required to tick. In it they agreed not to share copyrighted material, but only files that they themselves had produced. The second was file deletion rights Mega Upload granted their 180 partners, which included every single member of the Motion Picture Association and many music studios. As Dotcom points out, this isn’t a legal requirement (YouTube doesn’t grant automatic deletion rights) but something he did voluntarily. This is in addition to the 15 million files Mega Upload deleted at the request of copyright holders.
US Laws Protecting “Cloud” Servers
Dotcom is also extremely knowledgeable about US laws that protect “cloud” servers, which legally are categorized as Internet service providers (ISPs). The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is very explicit that ISPs are in no way responsible for copyright violations of third party users, other than to take down illegal files that are reported to them. Because of privacy protections in the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, ISPs are forbidden from examining files posted by their patrons. Thus they have no way of knowing they contain copyright violations unless content providers notify them.
Our Own Julian Assange
Dotcom has become a kind of folk hero in New Zealand, our own Julian Assange. Kiwis are aware the US government has stripped most of its own citizens of their civil liberties and happily champion anyone (even multimillionaires) brave enough to take on Big Brother.
NZ Court Rulings in Dotcom’s Favor
Unlike Assange’s experience in Britain, Dotcom is faring pretty well in New Zealand Courts
New Zealand courts. Thus far the FBI has refused to share the evidence against Dotcom with his defense team (sound familiar?). All they been willing to provide is a summary of the charges. The judge presiding over the upcoming extradition hearing disagrees. In May Judge David Harvey ruled that Dotcom’s lawyers should have access to information collated against him by the FBI. The Obama administration (predictably) has appealed the ruling, objecting that it’s outside the treaty agreement New Zealand has with the US on extradition. The action has struck an extremely negative chord with the New Zealand public, who still regard New Zealand as a sovereign country with a bill of rights guaranteeing all the civil liberties Americans used to enjoy under the US Constitution.
Dotcom’s ability to defend himself again extradition is especially difficult, as he no longer has access to computers, servers and computer files the New Zealand police seized (on behalf of the FBI), which are now in the US.
Last week New Zealand High Court judge Helen Winkelmen ruled that the warrants authorizing the search and seizure were illegal. She also ruled it was illegal for Dotcom’s computer data (which the FBI now refuses to share with his defense attorney) be taken offshore.
What Did Joe Biden Meet with the MPAA About?
Dotcom accuses United States Vice-President Joe Biden of masterminding the case against him. He says Hollywood bigwigs pressured the US Government to take down his website in a series of meetings about six months before New Zealand police (acting on the US extradition request) raided his Auckland home. He has evidence documenting meetings between all the studio executives in the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) and Biden. One executive later met, Mike Ellis, later met with former New Zealand justice minister Simon Power. The head of the MPAA disputes this. He claims the purpose of the meeting with Biden was to discuss America’s World Trade Association (WTO) complaint against China and the importance of getting more American films into the country.
Dotcom is in the process of creating a website to make all the evidence public. I can hardly wait.
 Kim Dotcom was born (in Germany) Kim Schmitz and changed his surname by deed poll.
 Cloud computing refers broadly to a range of Internet services that allow files to be uploaded to a remote site.
by stuartbramhall in New Zealand
There is growing suspicion in New Zealand that this country, like American Samoa and Puerto Rico, has become an American colony. Sadly, the unfolding Kim Dotcom saga seems to confirm this. On January 20th, a New Zealand assault team consisting of helicopters and special defense forces and police armed with automatic weapons invaded the private Auckland home of Mega Upload founder and CEO Kim Dotcom. The reason for Dotcom’s arrest? In New Zealand such treatment is normally reserved for international terrorism suspects and drug dealers. However the purpose of the January 20th assault was an FBI extradition order for Internet piracy.
Dotcom, who is out on bail, gave his first media interview last night on TV 3 Campbell Live. People have to see this. Americans especially need to watch the interview, as this type of hard hitting investigative reporting has become extremely rare in the US. The twenty-three minute segment leaves absolutely no doubt that the FBI Indictment is nothing but lies and fabrication. If, due to massive legal bungling, some New Zealand judge agrees to extradite this guy, he will undoubtedly be found innocent in US federal court.
The FBI Has Knowingly Violated US Law
The FBI has no case. If Dotcom is guilty, so are dozens of other “cloud” Internet providers (for example YouTube) that provide bandwidth for uploading and sharing large files. It appears that, once again, the FBI has knowingly violated US law. I suspect they have done this on the assumption that Dotcom is an easy target because either 1) the New Zealand legal and judicial system is (in their view) made up of ignorant hicks or 2) our current (conservative) National government are such obsequious lapdogs that they will introduce some weird retroactive law in Parliament to alter the rules of evidence (this is legal in New Zealand, owing to the absence of a written constitution).
Protected by the Same Laws as YouTube
John Campbell is a very skillful interviewer. The first point he brings out is the elaborate precautions (based on millions of dollars of legal advice) that Dotcom built into Mega Upload to protect the motion picture and music industry against illegal file sharing activities. The first is the Terms of Service Agreement all Mega Upload users were required to tick. In it they agreed not to share copyrighted material, but only files that they themselves had produced. The second was file deletion rights Mega Upload granted their 180 partners, which included every single member of the Motion Picture Association and many music studios. As Dotcom points out, this is not a legal requirement (YouTube doesn’t grant automatic deletion rights) but something he did voluntarily. This is in addition to the 15 million files Mega Upload has deleted at the request of copyright holders.
The Mega Upload founder goes on to outline the US laws that protect “cloud” servers, which legally are categorized as Internet service providers (ISP’s). The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is very explicit that ISP’s are in no way responsible for copyright violations of third party users, other than to take down illegal files that are reported to them. Because of privacy protections in the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, ISP’s are forbidden from examining files posted by their patrons. Thus they have no way of knowing of copyright violations unless content providers notify them.
Why the FBI Doesn’t Go After YouTube
The CEO of Mega Upload acknowledges that Internet piracy is an enormous problem for all cloud/file sharing providers, including YouTube (now owned by Google, Media Fire, Rapid Share and Shy Drive (run by Microsoft). He asks why the FBI doesn’t go after any corporate cloud/file sharing servers and answers his own question: Google has $50 billion to defend themselves.
Dotcom is surprisingly nonchalant that the FBI has destroyed his billion dollar business. I suspect this may have been their intention all along – in order to intimidate other solo entrepreneurs keen on entering the lucrative cloud/file sharing industry. The FBI, Hong Kong and New Zealand have frozen all his financial assets. He indicates his attorneys presently are working without pay, owing to their concern about the blatant miscarriage of justice by both the FBI and the New Zealand government. Dotcom is clearly relieved to be out of jail, as Mrs. Dotcom is expecting twins in April.
Implications for Cloud Users
The case also has ominous implications for cloud users. When the FBI shut down Mega Upload on January 20th, all their patrons (numbering in the hundreds of thousands) lost all their data. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is preparing to file suit if the FBI fails to retain and return these files to their rightful owners.
Jacob Appelbaum’s Take on the Dotcom Case
People should also view Jacob Appelbaum’s commentary on the Dotcom case, in a speech at Occupy Melbourne. Appelbaum is the Internet freedom activist who, owing to his association with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, was detained at both Newark and Seattle airport and had his laptop, cellphones and other electronic equipment confiscated. Appelbaum makes the point that the law has never held the FBI back in harassing law abiding citizens. He believes they have chosen to make an example of Dotcom owing to the failure of The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in Congress – that they want to make the case they don’t really need SOPA to arrest Internet pirates. This is a common strategy. As any activist over fifty can attest, the FBI has long engaged in illegal surveillance activities that only became legal in 2001 under the Patriot Act.
 Kim Dotcom was born (in Germany) Kim Schmitz and changed his surname by deed poll.
 Cloud computing refers broadly to a range of Internet services that allow files to be stored, backed up and/or shared on-line.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
In my last post I wrote about the apparent defect in integrity and moral courage that plagues most American corporate and political leaders. This hasn’t always been the case. With the steady erosion of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights over the last decade, it’s high time we celebrated the real American heroes – the public officials who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power – often at great personal cost.
The Armed ATF Raid That Didn’t Happen
Few Americans have heard of Wes Uhlman, Seattle’s mayor between 1969 and 1977. According to his official biography, his main claim to fame was being the youngest Washington State legislator (at 23) and youngest Seattle major (at 34) ever elected.
Ward Churchill mentions Uhlman in his 1990 Cointelpro Papers. At the time, Uhlman declined to identify the federal agency he crossed swords with. Churchill misidentifies it as the FBI. In 2005 Uhlman disclosed, in an interview with the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History project (http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/Panther3_schaefer.htm#_ednref8), that the federal agency he stood up to was the Agency for Tobacco and Firearms. The ATF was the main agency responsible for the 1993 Waco massacre. In February 1970, they put strong pressure on Uhlman to agree to an armed raid on the headquarters of the Seattle Black Panther Party.
This was approximately three months after the December 1969 early morning FBI-police raids on the apartments of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and Los Angeles Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt. In Chicago a fourteen man team armed with submachine guns raided Hampton’s apartment at four a.m. on December 3rd. During the raid, they murdered Hampton and Peoria Black Panther leader Mark Clark in their sleep. Three days later a forty member Los Angeles SWAT team with 100 back-up officers staged a similar five a.m. raid on Pratt’s apartment. Pratt, having decided to sleep on the floor that night, miraculously survived. None of the LA Panthers, who defended themselves for four hours until the press and public arrived, were killed. Six were injured. All the surviving Panthers in both Chicago and Los Angeles were arrested for “attacking the police.”
Two weeks later Pratt was framed for a December 1968 murder the FBI knew he didn’t commit, owing to FBI wiretapping logs (which were concealed from the defense) that placed him 350 miles away from the murder scene. Pratt’s conviction was overturned in 1997. Following his release from prison, he emigrated to Tanzania, where he died on June 3, 2011.
Uhlman Threatens to Arrest the ATF
In his interview with the Civil Rights and Labor History Project, Uhlman reveals that an ATF agent contacted him only months after he took office in late 1969. His justification for raiding Seattle’s Black Panther headquarters was that they were stockpiling illegal weapons. Uhlman declined the offer. As he states in the interview, he feared for the safety of a police undercover agent who had infiltrated the Seattle Panthers. Moreover the police informant maintained all the Panther’s weapons were legal.
The ATF agent, infuriated when Uhlman refused to go along with the raid, threatened to carry it out without the city’s consent. Upon which Uhlman responded that he would encircle the Black Panther headquarters with cops, who would “determine who the aggressor was.” His clear message was that any ATF agents who attacked the Panther headquarters would be subject to arrest.
No Gestapo-type Raids in Seattle
The ATF promptly leaked the outcome of the meeting to the press, hoping to embarrass Uhlman as a “sympathizer of militants.” When the Seattle Post Intelligencer interviewed him in 1970, Uhlman stated he wanted no part of the “trend of attacks” on the Black Panther Party. He made specific reference to the Chicago raid in which the FBI murdered Fred Hampton. “We are not going to have any 1932 Gestapo-type raids against anyone.” He also pointed out that the Seattle Black Panthers only had a handful of members, even though numerous young blacks were “enthralled” by the group’s message. “If you give them a cause, they can make political hay out of it, and the kids will look on them like Robin Hoods. Then you wind up with 900 Panthers.”
In the aftermath of Uhlman’s controversial stand, Uhlman received letters from people all over the US. Many attacked the mayor for his decision. I am struck by a distinctive turn of phrase reminiscent of the comments intelligence trolls leave on some of my blogs:
- “When idiot public officials cast their lot with proven communist agitators and anti-american (sic) bastards as the BLACK PANTHERS then it is time to IMPEACH such public sons of bitches.”
- “I don’t see why the federal agency had to ask a jerk like you whether they could stage a raid on the black panthers. (sic). This organization is downright rotten, but it takes a rotten jerk to know a rotten organization. I hope one nite (sic) one of your soul brothers slits your throat.”
- “Uhlman, you stupid ass, you are just as bad as the people, who are making such an issue of the two panthers who were killed in Chicago.”
The Civil Rights and Labor Project reports there were just as many letters applauding Uhlman’s decision for upholding the Bill of Rights protections against warrantless search and seizure :
- “You have GUTS—and even more…it would appear you do support the TRUE American spirit and the Constitution of this country. Let’s keep the principle…MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL!”
- “As a fifty year old veteran of WWII [with] twenty-one years active military service allow me to extend heartfelt gratitude and congratulations in your brave decision to put the Bill of Rights, for which I have served so long, into effect.”
- “We need more like you. I don’t necessarily agree with the Panthers, but the tactics of the Police, et al, frightens me more.”
Despite the controversy, Uhlman won his campaign for re-election in 1973. He retired from politics in 1978 to focus on his legal practice. A great pity. It seems that not one current mayor had the testicularity to say no to the Office of Homeland Security about the brutal crackdown they orchestrated against Occupy Wall Street sites.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
The effect of the 1947 Taft Hartley Act on union membership was almost immediate. In 1946 the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) had 6.3 million members. By 1954, when it merged with the AFL, this number was 4.6 million. This steady drop continued. In 1954 34.7% of American workers belonged to a union. By 2010, this had dropped to 11.9% (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm).
There are obviously multiple factors leading to the decline of unions in the US: the wholesale export of union manufacturing jobs, the expulsion of militant unionists (thanks to Taft Hartley’s red baiting clause), enabling union bureaucrats to identify more strongly with management than the rank and file; CIA infiltration of the AFL-CIO; Mafia involvement in the Teamsters and other unions with large pension funds; and the systematic Wall Street public relations campaign to demonize unions and the working class.
1. The export of American manufacturing jobs – the wholesale shutdown of US factories to relocate overseas was clearly a disaster for both the US economy and the trade union movement. Yet many on the Left argue, as I do, that a strong union movement would have stopped Ronald Reagan from repealing the tariff, quota and tax laws that, prior to 1980, would have prevented this massive dislocation. To make matters worse, as hundreds of thousands of workers left their good paying union jobs to take minimum wage jobs at MacDonald’s and Wal-Mart, the restrictions imposed by the Taft Hartley Act made it extremely difficult for unions to organize them in this new sector.
2. The expulsion of militant trade unionists – generous wages and benefits gave US workers a false sense of security during the economic boom of the fifties and sixties. Especially after the expulsion of more militant unionists, this allowed the conservative union leaders to identify more with corporate executives than with rank and file workers. Instead of lobbying to repeal Taft Hartley and relying on a well-organized rank and file and industrial action, union bosses became more focused on “sweetheart deals,” in which they got special perks from management for guaranteeing labor discipline among the workers they were supposed to represent. Rank and file unionists fought back in the 1970s with the formation of Teamsters for a Democratic Union and similar reform groups who fought hard for the right to elect their union leadership. In 2005 the union reform movement led the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to form the Change to Win Federation.
3. CIA infiltration of the AFL-CIO leadership – during the fifties and sixties, CIA infiltration clearly played a role in the AFL-CIO’s abandonment of rank and file workers. Former CIA officer Tom Braden bragged in a 1967 Saturday Evening Post article about the number of AFL-CIO officers he placed on the CIA payroll. See http://revitalisinglabour.blogspot.com/2009/04/lenny-brenner-on-tom-braden.html, http://www.laboreducator.org/darkpast2.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Braden
4. Mafia and organized crime involvement – participation by Mafia figures such as Jimmy Hoffa in the Teamsters and other major unions (the millions of dollars the unions held in their pension funds were irresistible to organized crime) was a major factor in turning public opinion against unionism and organized labor. The refusal of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to recognize or fight organized crime clearly enabled the takeover of the Teamsters by the Mafia. Both the FBI and CIA have a history of collaborating with organized crime in drug trafficking, strike breaking and in “anti-Communist” campaigns targeting trade unions and leftist groups in the US and Europe (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucky_Luciano, http://www.converge.org.nz/pirm/cia.htm and http://tinyurl.com/6f6vms5 – an excerpt from Opium: Uncovering the Politics of the Poppy by Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy). The FBI and military intelligence also collaborated with senior organized crime figures in the JFK assassination (see the 1970 Torbitt Document, based on New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s grand jury investigation of the JFK Assassination http://www.newsmakingnews.com/torbitt.htm)
5. Wall Street’s public relations campaign to demonize unions – I have written at length (see “Thinking Like Egyptians” http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/03/01/thinking-like-egyptians/) about a systematic, seven decade corporate campaign to bombard the American public with anti-union, anti-worker and anti-working class messages. The late Australian psychologist Alex Carey was the first to document the extent of this campaign in his 1995 Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty.
by stuartbramhall in Things That Aren't What They Seem
My own knowledge of left gatekeepers stems from 14 years as a single payer activist (1988-2002) in Washington State. Our local single payer movement was launched by a group of doctors belonging to Physicians for a National Health Program. Our goal was to reduce health care costs and cover the uninsured by following the example of all other industrialized countries, by lobbying the government to create a Canadian style government-funded “single payer” health program to cover all Americans. Our group seemed to make the most progress in the first five years, when we were a primarily doctor-run organization focused on educating other doctors, lawmakers and community groups about the mechanics of a single payer health care system. In fact we were an important partner in a broader coalition that included the Washington State Medical Association and the Washington State Hospital Association and that pressured the government to appoint a blue ribbon commission to develop a proposal for a state based, publicly financed health care system.
In 1993, when we joined with Seattle Gray Panthers to form a broad based citizen’s coalition, we began to have the same difficulties many of experienced in the antiwar and Central American solidarity movement, and which one African American member experienced as a Black Panther in Los Angeles. It started with the appearance, out of nowhere, of quirky strangers who disrupted and sabotaged our meetings, tampered with our database and seized control of our contact list to launch rumor and character assassination campaigns. In 1994 one of these “outsiders” managed to take control of the leadership and totally shut down the single payer for six months. After we learned he had done the same, seizing control of the database and the leadership and committee structure of two other groups – the Anti-Gulf War Coalition and the Seattle chapter of Democratic Socialists of American, we logically assumed he was a Cointelpro agent and worked for the FBI. I describe all this in the second half of my memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee.
Who Infiltrated Washington’s Single Payer Movement?
In retrospect, some aspects of this “infiltration” of the single payer movement that strike me as distinctly different from classic the Cointelpro methodology. The first was a heavy reliance on the formation of “parallel” health care reform organizations, both to compete with us for new members and to discredit us. The second was a much higher level of sophistication and national coordination than is normally associated with the FBI operation. The FBI memos American Indian Movement activist Ward Churchill reproduces in the Cointelpro Papers suggest that J. Edgar Hoover’s Cointelpro operation was quite decentralized – that for the most part, he left it to field agents to devise their own strategies for infiltrating and sabotaging local Black Panther chapters.
In contrast, single payer activists in Washington State quickly discovered that single payer activists in Ohio, Oregon and California were experiencing the exact same problems that we were. As in our own state, short-lived “parallel” single payer organizations were being created by brand new left think tanks or left leaning foundations that claimed to support single payer health care – but disagreed with grassroots organizing to mobilize public support for it. Despite their nominal support for nationalizing health care, their newsletters, brochures and publicly forums almost exclusively focused on arguments against lobbying for single payer health care. What was even more uncanny was that the language articulated by the staff employed by these parallel organizations was virtually identical in state after state. All their arguments boiled down to the “political climate” and “politically timing” being wrong for single payer and accusations about grassroots single payer activists being “inexperienced,” “reckless,” and “wrong-headed” to aggressively push for it. In some cases, these parallel organizations also launched competing proposals based on the private health insurance model.
Co-opting and Forming Parallel Organizations
In Oregon, for example, single payer activists complained how the Oregon Health Action Campaign, which began as a single payer advocacy organization, was systematically co-opted by Governor John Kitzhaber and foundation-funded staff who argued the “political climate and timing” was wrong for single payer and revamped OHAC’s mission to advocate for Kitzhaber’s Oregon Health Plan. The OHP, enacted in 1994, employs state and federal funding to subsidize and maintain a private health insurance model.
Between 1997 and 2001, Washington’s single payer movement confronted four parallel foundation-funded (in Washington State, they also received substantial support from a very conservative Washington State Labor Council) health care reform organizations. The first, the Equal Opportunity Institute (EOI), was formed in 1997 to launch a health care initiative campaign (to expand the insurance-based Washington Basic Health Plan) to compete with our own single payer ballot initiative. The second was Just Health Care, which had a brief existence between 1999 and 2000, was solely focused on attacking our single payer initiative. The third was Code Blue Now! (2001-2008), which was supposedly formed to develop “public consensus” on the best way to reform health care (despite polling showing that 60% of Washington voters supported a single, publicly financed system). The fourth was the Rainier Foundation, a “progressive” foundation (2001-2005) also established to “promote consensus” around health care reform.
It was never clear from the website of these “parallel’ groups exactly where they got their funding. And since all but the EOI are now defunct, it would be quite complicated to get their tax records via the Freedom of Information Act. My sense has always been that they derived most of their funding from the private insurance industry (which stands to lose big if federal and/or state governments enact publicly financed health care programs). Thus in this sense they were most likely pure “astroturf” creations (*see below), though they clearly adopted techniques employed by CIA-linked counterinsurgency foundations and classic FBI Cointelpro operations.
* Senator Lloyd Bentson, himself a long-time Washington and Wall Street insider, is credited with coining the term “astroturf lobbying” to describe the synthetic grassroots movements that now can be manufactured, for a fee, by a dozen or so public relations companies. The Tea Party movement, largely created and funded by the infamous Koch brothers, is probably the most high profile example of astroturfing (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/25/tea-party-koch-brothers)
Many of the public relations firms that launch “astroturf” organizations have strong links to the intelligence community. Transferring to a private sector public relations company is a common career move for former intelligence officers – though not quite so common as taking up employment with a private intelligence/security contractor.
Unlike genuine grassroots activism which tends to be money-poor but people-rich, astroturf campaigns are typically people-poor but cash-rich. Funded heavily by corporate largesse, they use sophisticated computer databases, telephone banks and hired organizers to rope less-informed activists into sending letters to their elected officials or engaging in other actions that create the appearance of grassroots support for their client’s cause. Source Watch (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Astroturf) cites a number of examples (in addition to the Tea Party) in which ordinary citizens (and occasionally citizen’s groups, such as the United Church of Christ and the Gray Panthers), have been recruited into Astroturf organizations to promote corporate agendas, such as
- blocking the transfer of federal licenses that WorldCom uses for its long distance and Internet services by Issue Dynamics Inc. using non-profit groups like the United Church of Christ
- defeating the Clinton administration’s proposed health care reform, through a front group called “Rx Partners” created by the Beckel Cowan PR firm, and the Coalition for Health Insurance Choices, created by public relations consultant Blair Childs
- harassing environmentalists through the Wise Use movement
- supporting clear-cutting American forests, through a front group called Citizens to Protect the Pacific Northwest and Northern California Economy
- opposing restrictions on smoking in public places, through a front group called National Smokers Alliance, which was created by Burson-Marsteller
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on Civil Liberties, Attacks on the Working Class
I neglected to mention in my last blog that Oscar Manassa, the African American postal worker who was murdered, experienced the same vicious harassment I did for four years before he was killed. In fact this is why his legal team brought him to see me. He, too, complained of relentless prank calls, stalking, and anonymous calls to his wife that ultimately broke up his marriage. He developed classic acute stress disorder symptoms as a result of the harassment – severe insomnia, anxiety attacks, loss of motivation, memory problems and difficulty focusing. Which made it impossible for him to participate effectively in grievance hearings or his workers compensation appeal.
Unfortunately Oscar’s problems weren’t psychiatric, and my (pro-bono) professional services weren’t of much use to him. His symptoms were a natural response to genuine, life threatening stress. What ultimately helped Oscar get on top of his fear and anxiety was a six month stay with his family in Alabama. The turning point, as he described shortly before his murder, was when his mother began receiving prank calls. It was the phone calls from two anonymous males urging her to put Oscar in a mental institution that ultimately convinced his family that his claims weren’t pure paranoia – that anonymous strangers were threatening him with real harm. As commonly happens, his ordeal had to become real to his family before they could fully support him in coping with it.
Oscar returned to Seattle in March 1989 to reopen his workers compensation claim and file for reinstatement at the post office. I saw him once, to help him apply for temporary welfare benefits for the deposit on a new apartment. He was a totally different person – positive, confident and optimistic about his future. He had already seen his attorney to reopen his workers compensation claim and was doing casual labor through the Millionaire’s Club.
Oscar’s Recovery Cost Him His Life
Oscar ultimately won his workers compensation claim. His attorney received notification from the Department of Labor several weeks after his death. A clear signal for his supporters that his recovery had cost him his life. The link between his return to Seattle to resume his legal battles and his murder was undeniable. If he had remained a terrified and depressed no-hoper in rural Alabama, they would have left him alone.
It would be several years before I learned why postal workers were being systematically harassed – in some cases murdered – for filing workers compensation claims. In the end, the complex political motives behind Oscar’s murder didn’t really matter. What would change my life forever was the glimpse it gave me into an invisible intelligence-security operation very similar to Hitler’s Brownshirts. This, in turn, shattered every illusion I grew up with about democracy and the rule of law.
I could no longer escape the ugly truth that ultimate power in the US resides in a network of intelligence thugs – who answer only to an invisible elite – and who carry out extrajudicial murders of political opponents with no legal consequences whatsoever. What I find most tragic and horrifying about Oscar’s case was that he was merely politically inconvenient, as opposed to a genuine threat.
The Assassination of Domingo and Viernes
Extra-judicial assassination of political dissidents isn’t new in Seattle. In 1981 the FBI collaborated with Marcos agents (by infiltrating local 37 and monitoring the targets’ whereabouts) in the assassination of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, organizers in the Filipino cannery workers union. All this came out in the lawsuit the Domingo family filed against Marcos, the FBI and CIA.
In the 1989 trial, the jury awarded the family $32.5 million. Marcos was dead by then and his wife Imelda theoretically bankrupt. The court records are sealed, but presumably the US government paid the bulk of the award.
To be continued
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on Civil Liberties, China Watch, Things That Aren't What They Seem
Interesting all the brouhaha over jailed Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Lui Xiabo – and Obama’s “demands” that he be released – or that at minimum his family be allowed to travel to Oslo to collect his prize. Obviously if the President were really concerned about human rights in China, he could always impose trade sanctions on them, as he does on Cuba and Iran.
The US June 4th Movement
The reality is that the US has always had a very schizophrenic reaction to Chinese human rights violations, starting with the June 4, 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. Much has been written, especially since the twentieth anniversary last year, about the underground June 4th movement that developed in China after the massacre. However you never read anything about the parallel June 4th movement that emerged in the US in the months after Tiananmen Square. It was led by Chinese university and graduate students on campuses all over the country – with the support of American pro-civil liberties advocates across the political spectrum.
For two to three months, it got extensive mainstream media coverage. I recall seeing an article in the Seattle Times about an upcoming meeting at the University of Washington. Unfortunately I was sick that night and unable to attend.
By September 1989, the US June 4th movement had vanished without a trace. I found this extremely odd until six months later, an investigator friend learned, off the record from an FBI friend, exactly how the federal agency had shut down the American June 4th movement.
It was quite simple really. The FBI went to all the Chinese leaders and told them their student visas would be revoked unless they agreed to inform on the other activists who attended the meetings. Not surprisingly, they chose to keep their visas and disband the movement. A very old strategy – still in use today (see http://www.pamshouseblend.com/diary/16428/spy-for-us-or-never-return-home-obamas-new-tactic-in-the-war-on-terror).
Why Did Bush Senior Shut It Down?
So why did Bush senior want the June 4th movement shut down? According to my friend’s FBI friend, Bush was engaged in major trade negotiations that China refused to consummate unless Bush could guarantee the underground June 4th movement wouldn’t receive (potentially substantial) financial and political support from Chinese students in the US.
With the recent FBI’s raids on Twin Cities and Chicago peace activists, there has been a lot of Internet traffic about a “resurgence” of the old FBI Cointelpro (the FBI operation which spied extensively on peace and social justice organizations in the sixties and seventies) This assumes Cointelpro ended when J. Edgar Hoover died, though increasing evidence suggests his successors continued it.
The FBI operation to shut down the US June 4th movement is but one of many examples – in Seattle alone – that I discuss in my recent memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee.
Other Examples of Cointelpro-Type Activities
In The Most Revolutionary Act, I also cover the FBI’s collaboration with Marcos agents in 1981 to gun down Filipino cannery workers and union activists Domingo and Viernes (the US government later settled with their family, as they did with Fred Hampton’s family after the FBI gunned him down in his sleep). And, among other police-state activities, the FBI infiltration of CISPES and the grassroots campaign to create a Seattle African American Museum – and the 1989 murder of Seattle postal worker and union activist Oscar Manassa (it so happens it was the Postal Inspectors – another branch of US intelligence – who seized his evidence file to halt the homicide investigation).
In 1990, we very nearly persuaded two intrepid congressmen to launch a Congressional Investigation into the mysterious, violent “suicides” of 23 postal workers between 1986 and 1990. And then, as usual, one or both of them were blackmailed – it’s my understanding they typically threaten congress people with a trumped-up ethics investigation, as they have done recently with Maxine Waters. And the CI never happened.