ACLU Accuses FBI of Spying on Antiwar Group

The American Civil Liberties Union is accusing the FBI of spying on an activist group because the group opposed going to war in Iraq. The ACLU released FBI documents related to the surveillance. The FBI counters that an agent checked out the group on a tip that a wanted individual was a member.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The American Civil Liberties Union said today that the FBI was watching a Pittsburgh peace group because the group opposes the war in Iraq. The FBI says otherwise.

NPR's Libby Lewis reports.

LIBBY LEWIS reporting:

For months now, the ACLU has been bird-dogging instances of the government monitoring lawful domestic groups as part of anti-terrorism efforts. The ACLU has used the Freedom of Information Act to check up on the FBI. Today, the ACLU released 11 pages from FBI documents that mention the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Justice, that's a Pittsburgh group founded during the Vietnam War.

One of those documents says a report the FBI's Pittsburgh office filed on November 29th, 2002, it's titled International Terrorism Matters. Under synopsis, it reads: to report results of investigation of Pittsburgh antiwar activity.

The report notes the Merton Center was distributing leaflets, "focused on the potential war with Iraq." It goes on to say, according to these leaflets, Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction. The ACLU says the FBI documents are evidence the FBI was monitoring the lawful activities of a domestic group because of its political views.

The ACLU's Mary Catherine Roper spoke to reporters Tuesday from the Merton Center.

Ms. MARY CATHERINE ROPER (Staff Attorney, ACLU): Why is this administration devoting so many resources to following around peace and justice activists in downtown Pittsburgh?

LIBBY: John Miller is an assistant director of the FBI. He said the FBI wasn't doing that. He said the FBI was investigating a specific person, and that agents were following up on a tip that that person had ties to the Merton Center. He said the November 2002 report was meant to describe the Merton Center and its activities, nothing more.

Miller said the Merton Center name also came up in investigations of violent anarchists groups. So it showed up in heavily redacted reports, by confidential informants, as late as March 2005. Miller said the FBI isn't interested in investigating people's politics or where they practice them.

Mr. JOHN MILLER (Assistant Director, FBI): The difficulty is, and this is where it gets uncomfortable, sometimes investigations into other things, other violations of the law, will take us to those places.

LIBBY: He said that might be an Irish bar or a peace group.

Libby Lewis, NPR News.

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