‘New’ FBI, Same Old Problems
American rights and liberties took a blow last month when
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a “reorganization” of the
FBI triggered by post-9/11 security concerns. While the revamping
appears to be devoted to the security of the American people,
In These Times writer Doug Ireland argues that our
own personal freedom have been compromised in the process.
“By giving the FBI carte blanche to spy on speech and ideas . . . the Bush administration has taken another giant step toward turning this nation into a garrison state,” Ireland writes.
Ashcroft’s “reorganization” allows the bureau full access to an individual’s participation in Internet chat rooms, churches, and social and political organizations. The bureau also will have access to commercial databases on credit histories, travel plans, book purchases, magazine subscriptions, and medical histories -- all without a court order, evidence of a crime, or even approval from headquarters.
The FBI’s new power, under director Robert Mueller, is reminescent of past infringements of constitutional rights, including COINTELPRO, the 1960s-era program that destroyed activist organizations from the inside.
Ireland notes that this is not the only reason why the American public should be wary of the FBI’s operations. Guidelines required for domestic spying -- set up by the Ford administration in reaction to COINTELPRO abuse -- have been ignored for decades, and the quality control of FBI investigations is so weak that much information is untrustworthy.
But what’s even more troublesome, he writes, is the lack of resistance to the move on the part of politicians and the media. “Within 36 hours after Ashcroft unveiled the seismic policy changes, the story had effectively dropped off the radar.”