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FBI Targeted Freelance Journalist Covering FTAA Miami Talks

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Newly-released documents reveal that the FBI spied on freelance journalist David Lippman as he was covering the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Miami in 2003. The documents indicate Lippman was under surveillance for being a “known protestor w/history.” The American Civil Liberties Union is filing a lawsuit on his behalf. [includes rush transcript]

  • Dave Lippman, freelance journalist who is suing the FBI for spying on him during the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Miami in 2003.
  • Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Dave Lippman in our studio, you were working for Free Speech Radio News, which provides news for community radio stations in Pacifica around the country, covering the FTAA protest in November of 2003. What happened?

DAVE LIPPMAN: I had just parked my car in a municipal garage, and it was about two hours later I happened to be standing on a corner when I saw my truck go by behind a tow truck, and then I realized that the street that I had seen that was blocked off was blocked off because they were examining my truck and breaking the windows in it. It took me two days to get it back, and I found padlocks on the back broken and everything quite disordered, so the ACLU came into the case, the ACLU of Florida, and eventually they discovered documents indicating that several different law enforcement agencies have been involved, in not entirely clear ways, including the Miami police the Broward County Sheriffs, the neighboring county and the F.B.I. It’s not clear what the exact motive was of taking that vehicle. It was not the only vehicle taken or damaged, but it does say in the documents that the vehicle was followed from North Carolina, where I live, to Miami, because I’m a protester with a known history.

AMY GOODMAN: A protester with a history?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right, and the incident report actually does admit that the Broward County Sheriffs, F.B.I. and Miami Dade were involved in the damage, right? But it doesn’t give a reason?

DAVE LIPPMAN: Only the reason that I’m a protester with a known history.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s that history?

DAVE LIPPMAN: Well, I have spent a lot of time as a performing artist, but doing political material. I do music and comedy around the country, but I was involved in North Carolina in local antiwar activities, local organizations, campus, community organizations, starting around 2001, and so I had been doing that for the last two years.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what kind of comedy do you do?

DAVE LIPPMAN: I play a singing C.I.A. agent, which is a little ironic, I guess, in this case.

AMY GOODMAN: Ann Beeson, what does an individual do in this case?

ANN BEESON: Well, anyone, of course, that is an active member of any organization or is an active protester can try to get a copy of their F.B.I. file through the Freedom of Information Act. That is, in fact, the tool that we’ve used to expose all of these examples of spying so far. So you can fight back by exposing these records, and we are pressuring Congress to restore the guidelines that limit domestic spying. And there is some movement as a result of this national project for members of Congress to support that kind of restoration of our rights to protest.

AMY GOODMAN: Vermont Senator Leahy has been playing a key role, also demanding to know about what’s happening to peace activists in Vermont, since information came out in the database, I think Pentagon or F.B.I. database, that they are being targeted, groups like AFSC.

ANN BEESON: That’s right. Another important thing to note is that part of this is a result of government funding of supposed counterterrorism efforts, again something you saw back in the sixties and seventies. All of these dollars are flowing to the Miami Police Department, etc, and these departments around the country, and they’re being told, “Oh, you’ve got to find a terrorist somewhere.” Well what are they doing? They’re wasting these resources on investigation of peaceful protesters.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And for citizens who want to be able to get a hold of their F.B.I. files, has it become more difficult in recent years? Have they become more stringent in terms of giving people access to these records?

ANN BEESON: They have cracked down a bit, and so we’ve actually been a bit surprised at the amount of information that we have. It make us wonder what they’re not giving us, because as you heard, with regard to the School of the Americas Watch, many of the documents we’re receiving on these groups are heavily redacted. Now, we’re going to continue to litigate to try to get access to some of the redacted versions of those files but, you know, I suppose we could say at least there’s little hope that they’re giving us some of these records and we’re able to expose it.

AMY GOODMAN: Is Dave Lippman still being monitored?

ANN BEESON: I don’t think we know. Do you know, Dave? Have you heard anything through your case?

DAVE LIPPMAN: I have no clue. We did do a Freedom of Information Act to the F.B.I. regarding this case before filing the lawsuit, which came up with nothing.

ANN BEESON: Yes, so see, not everyone is as fortunate as we’ve been, with regard to School of the Americas Watch and the Merton Center and the American Friends Service Committee, in getting these files, which again makes you wonder what else they’re hiding.

AMY GOODMAN: Can Congress just say, “Stop it”?

ANN BEESON: Absolutely, they could, and they should, and we should all encourage them to stop this.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why haven’t they?

ANN BEESON: Well, that’s a very good question, and that’s why we all need to keep speaking out, exposing these ridiculous examples and getting more people to join us in calling for really a restoration of the American right to protest.

AMY GOODMAN: If I remember correctly, with the F.T.A.A. protest, the Free Trade Area of the Americas protest in Miami, the Miami Police Department was given something like $8 million to deal with this peaceful protest. So now we know where some of the money went.

ANN BEESON: Absolutely. You know, and even people who don’t necessarily support the views of many of the groups that we’re representing around the country have to say, you know, “What are they doing with our tax dollars? Couldn’t they be spending it on something that would actually make us a little secure even if you’re concerned about security?”

JUAN GONZALEZ: Back in the 1970s with COINTELPRO, the F.B.I. not only conducted surveillance, but conducted active attempts to create divisions and to lure people into criminal activities. Do you find some of that happening, as well, or not?

ANN BEESON: We know as a result of this same project that the F.B.I. has sent confidential informants into mainstream groups like Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We don’t know exactly what those confidential informants are doing, because those are the details that are redacted, but we know that they’re there, and we absolutely are concerned that the same kind of, you know, provocation is happening as a result of these confidential informants inside these groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll certainly continue to follow the story. I want to thank you, Ann Beeson, for being with us, associate legal director of the ACLU, Eric LeCompte, who is with us in Washington, of SOA Watch, and Dave Lippman of — well, at the time was working for Free Speech Radio and continues to work around the country, both as an entertainer and as a reporter.

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