Antiwar activists are gearing up for protests outside FBI offices in cities across the country today and Tuesday after the FBI raided eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis Friday. The FBI’s search warrants indicate agents were looking for connections between local antiwar activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East. We speak to the targets of two of the raids and former FBI officer Coleen Rowley. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Antiwar activists are gearing up for protests outside FBI offices in cities across the country today and tomorrow after the FBI raided eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis Friday.
The FBI’s search warrants indicate agents were looking for connections between local antiwar activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East. Eight people were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago. Most of the people whose homes were searched or who were issued subpoenas had helped organize or attended protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, two years ago.
The federal law cited in the search warrants prohibits, quote, "providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations." In June, the Supreme Court rejected a free speech challenge to the material support law from humanitarian aid groups that said some of its provisions put them at risk of being prosecuted for talking to terrorist organizations about nonviolent activities. Some of groups listed by name in the warrants are Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The warrants also authorized agents to to seize items such as electronics, photographs, videos, address books and letters.
Friday’s raids come on the heels of a Justice Department probe that found the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006.
For more, I’m joined now by three guests.
Joining us from Minneapolis, longtime antiwar activist Jess Sundin, whose home was raided by the FBI early Friday morning. She’s a member of the Anti-War Committee, whose offices were also raided.
Joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Chicago is Joe Iosbaker, whose home was one of two raided in Chicago Friday. He’s an employee of the University of Illinois in Chicago and a steward for SEIU Local 73. He helped coordinate buses from Chicago to the protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008.
Also in Minneapolis we’re joined by former FBI special agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley. Time named her Woman of the Year, Person of the Year in 2002.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Minneapolis with Jess Sundin. Tell us what happened.
JESS SUNDIN: Friday morning, I awoke to a bang at the door, and by the time I was downstairs, there were six or seven federal agents already in my home, where my partner and my six-year-old daughter had already been awake. We were given the search warrant, and they went through the entire house. They spent probably about four hours going through all of our personal belongings, every book, paper, our clothes, and filled several boxes and crates with our computers, our phones, my passport. And when they were done, as I said, they had many crates full of my personal belongings, with which they left my house.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you the only one there that morning?
JESS SUNDIN: No, my partner and my first-grade daughter were also there.
AMY GOODMAN: And what exactly did they show you to get in?
JESS SUNDIN: Well, we have a porch where you can’t see exactly who’s outside. And so, they had already let themselves into the porch by the time my daughter — my wife opened the door. And when they came in, they showed us this four-page document that listed, as I said, all the kinds of things that they were entitled to look — to search for in my home, as well as a subpoena to appear before a grand jury. My name was listed on the search warrant, but both myself and my partner received subpoenas for the grand jury in Chicago.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Chicago, to Joe Iosbaker. Describe what happened to you on Friday morning.
JOE IOSBAKER: Well, it’s the exact same story. It was a nationally coordinated assault on all of these homes. Seven a.m., the pound on the door. I was getting ready for work, came down the stairs, and there were, I think, in the area of ten agents, you know, of the — they identified themselves as FBI, showed me the search warrant. And I turned to my wife and said, "Stephanie, it’s the thought police."
AMY GOODMAN: And they came in?
JOE IOSBAKER: They came in, and they proceeded to set up their operation in our living room, and they proceeded to photograph every room in our house. And over the next, I don’t know, thirty or forty-five minutes, they proceeded to label every room and then systematically go through every room, our basement, our attic, our children’s rooms, and pored through not just all of our papers, but our music collection, our children’s artwork, my son’s poetry journals from high school — everything.
AMY GOODMAN: And were they explaining to you what they were doing as they were raiding your house?
JOE IOSBAKER: There was — there were — some of the officers, you know, were telling us what they were doing. Most of them were not. But they gave us some explanation.
AMY GOODMAN: What exactly did they say to you?
JOE IOSBAKER: Well, they — all they said in terms of the content of what they were looking for is that they — you know, they showed us the search warrant, and I was — my wife and I were both subpoenaed, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: What organizations are you involved with, Joe? What do you think they’re looking for?
JOE IOSBAKER: Well, as you said at the start, I’m a trade unionist primarily. That’s how most people know me. I’m also the staff adviser at UIC for the Students for a Democratic Society chapter.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s University of Illinois, Chicago.
JOE IOSBAKER: Correct. And, you know, I’ve been a political activist for thirty-three years, so I’ve been a member of a lot of organizations and campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: Coleen Rowley, you’re a former FBI agent, whistleblower, named Time Person of the Year in 2002. Can you explain what you think is happening here? And also, put it in the context of this very interesting Justice Department IG — Inspector General — report that has just come out on their surveillance of whistleblowers — rather, the surveillance of activists over the last almost decade.
COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I can’t really detail all of the legal factors that have changed since 9/11, but there simply has been a sea change. For instance, when I taught constitutional rights in the FBI, one of the main top priorities was First Amendment rights. And while this is not the first time that you’ve seen this Orwellian turn of the war on terror onto domestic peace groups and social justice groups — actually, we had that begin very quickly after 9/11, and there were legal opinions, Office of Legal Counsel opinions, that said the First Amendment no longer controls the war on terror — but even so, this is shocking and alarming that at this point we have the, you know, humanitarian advocacy now being treated as somehow material support to terrorists.
We’ve also just seen, ironically, four days before this national raid, we saw the Department of Justice Inspector General issue a report that soundly criticized the FBI for four years of targeting domestic groups such as Greenpeace, the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, different antiwar rallies, even involving a finding that the FBI director had given them a falsehood to Congress as to the justification for the FBI to monitor a peace group.
AMY GOODMAN: What about what’s happened in Iowa, Coleen Rowley?
COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that’s another instance. And that one is actually after the scope of the IG investigation. The IG investigation only went to 2006. There have been requests for that IG to go further. Obviously there’s been four more years. And in 2008, we found out through a Freedom of Information request that there’s 300 pages of — I think it was four or five, six agents trailing a group of students in Iowa City to parks, libraries, bars, restaurants. They even went through their trash. So, this is another reason why peace groups, and certainly law professors, have to be very concerned now about this misinterpretation that says advocacy for human-rights — I just have to mention, we have a famous Minnesotan who wrote Three Cups of Tea. And he obviously sets up schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His name is Greg Mortenson. Obviously, people like him and Jimmy Carter are even at peril, given this wide discretion now to say that anyone who works in a foreign country, even for peace or humanitarian, anti-torture purposes, could somehow run afoul of the PATRIOT Act.
AMY GOODMAN: The Church Committee in the 1970s really blew the lid open on CIA spying at home, and also guidelines then, regulations, were passed afterwards. How do they apply today, when Americans are being surveilled, infiltrated, spied on at home?
COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that’s another one of the factors, besides this Supreme Court ruling. Right after 9/11, the Attorney General began to erode those guidelines. He basically said that FBI agents could go into mosques and places like that to monitor, so that was the beginning. The very — almost the last official act that Bush did in 2008 was that he totally erased those prior AG guidelines. There is really no need to even show factual justification now. The presumption is entirely reversed. And basically the FBI need only say that they were not targeting — that they were not targeting a group solely based on their exercise of First Amendment rights. So the presumption really did, again, a complete flip-flop.
And, of course, that’s why you see these various scandals now coming out. It should be no surprise to someone that if there’s no restraints, the green light is on, that you see, of course — I actually kind of sympathize with the FBI. I used to train these agents, and I can understand the enormous pressure they’re under. And, of course, this is why it’s so incredibly important to get the word to the officials who are in charge of using their discretion that they should use their discretion to look for real terrorists instead of to go after peace groups.
AMY GOODMAN: Jess Sundin, what are your plans now? I mean, over the weekend I saw online the video of your mass emergency meeting — many people came out for this, rallying around — and also talked about the RNC 8, the eight people who were preemptively arrested in the lead-up to the Republican convention, all charged on terror counts. All of those terror counts have been dropped now. But it certainly was a very frightening time. What are your plans now?
JESS SUNDIN: Well, as you mentioned, in the Twin Cities we had a meeting the night that the raids happened. There were more than 200 people who gathered, and really every organization in the Twin Cities. But I’d say countless organizations across the country have contacted us to ask us how they can help. There will be, today and tomorrow, as you mentioned earlier, demonstrations in at least twenty cities around the country. We’ve had word of plans for demonstrations at embassies in other countries, as well, at US embassies.
So, one of the things we’re doing is trying to call attention to what’s happened and really make it clear to people that we have done nothing wrong. There is no basis to the claim that we’ve in any way given support to terrorist organizations. But in fact, we are being — we are being — there is attention on us because of our work in the antiwar movement, and in particular, our perspective of solidarity with people in the countries where the US war and militarism are happening.
We, following up on these demonstrations, are going to be pulling together a network of people from many of these organizations that have expressed their concern. Folks who want to get tied into that can find us through the Anti-War Committee website, which is very outdated. We’re doing our best to get it up. Of course, as we explained, all of our computers were seized. So we’re doing a lot of catch up, trying to get ourselves organized.
And, of course, we’re also very concerned with making legal plans to protect ourselves. A number of people have been called before a grand jury in Chicago. And we, you know, don’t want to be — you know, a case to be framed up around us. All of us are quite confident that nothing that was found in our homes will give substantiation to the claims against us. And there’s, in fact, no charges against us. But we want to do everything we can to both protect ourselves legally while at the same time working with the movement to call attention to what’s happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Joe Iosbaker, I wanted to ask you about the other house that was raided. Just looking at an AP piece, FBI agents in Chicago took a laptop and documents from the home of Palestinian American antiwar activist Hatem Abudayyeh, who is the executive director of the Arab American Action Network. His attorney, Jim Fennerty, said, The government’s trying to quiet activists. The case is really is scary," he said. Abudayyeh is an American citizen. Can you talk about your work on Israel-Palestine, who Hatem Abudayyeh is?
JOE IOSBAKER: Well, I actually have to talk about my wife’s work. My wife is a longtime solidarity activist in the Palestine solidarity movement. And —-
AMY GOODMAN: Stephanie Weiner.
JOE IOSBAKER: Correct. She was also subpoenaed. And really everyone in the antiwar movement in Chicago knows Hatem. You know, if you look back online at video of the protests here of thousands of people marching when Israel assaulted Gaza two years ago, Hatem was the emcee at almost every major rally. And the Arab American Action Network was the first center of the Arab community in the city, founded back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So Hatem is the most prominent Palestinian activist in the city of Chicago. It’s no surprise that they targeted him.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re organizing, Joe Iosbaker, around Colombia. In a minute we’ll be joined by Ingrid Betancourt, who was, well, as you know, held captive -—
JOE IOSBAKER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — for more than six years. But what about your work around Colombia, since it seems that Israel-Palestine and Colombia were major focuses of this FBI raid?
JOE IOSBAKER: Well, I actually think that I should defer that question to Jess, who has much more experience in Colombia solidarity work.
AMY GOODMAN: Jess Sundin in Minneapolis.
JESS SUNDIN: Yeah, the antiwar movement has long been concerned with places that the US funds wars abroad, and there’s a major civil war unfolding in Colombia, and it’s the third-largest recipient of US military aid, so Colombia is very much an issue for the antiwar movement. I have traveled to Colombia and understand that it’s the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. And, in fact, anyone involved in the social movement there is viewed by the government, as well as the paramilitary death squads, as a rebel and treated as such. And so, I know that the investigation is very interested in travel — I have traveled to Colombia — and [it] tried to establish some sort of organizational ties, which there aren’t. But that said, I do support the Colombian struggle and have been very involved in that.
AMY GOODMAN: Coleen Rowley, how do civil rights compare, what you’re seeing today under the Obama administration, to President Bush, someone you certainly blew the whistle on?
COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I can’t talk for another couple hours here, because that’s how long it would take me. I actually urged the FBI from early on — I even wrote a chapter, "Civil Liberties and Effective Investigation." And unfortunately, these warnings have just been largely — of myself and many others — have been largely ignored. Even the 9/11 Commission focused — three of their recommendations, out of forty-one, were on creating a privacy and civil liberties oversight board. And Bush pulled the rug from under that board early on. And Obama, two years later, has never appointed any people, any of the five seats to that board, which is just incredible in light of what’s gone on, even including the revelations of torture and warrantless monitoring.
What people need to do is to basically ask for more than just an IG investigation. They need to ask for Congress to actually take on something like a new Church Committee. And that’s actually been asked for. Barbara Lee, I think, actually had a proposal a year ago for something like that. So we should all contact our elected representatives and ask for Congress to take on greater oversight of this — what’s going on.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly continue to follow this case as it unfolds. I want to thank you, Coleen Rowley, former FBI agent, whistleblower, named Time Person of the Year in 2002. Jess Sundin and Joe Iosbaker, thanks so much for being with us. I know this is a very difficult time for you. Both of their homes were raided, computers, notes, other things taken. That happened on Friday morning. And, of course, we’ll continue to follow both these cases.