FOIA Documents Reveal FBI Spying on Annual SOAW Vigil

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Office in Atlanta used its Domestic Intelligence Terrorism Squad to infiltrate and monitor a peace movement that has existed since 1990.  A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) was submitted on behalf of the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) to the Atlanta Field Office.  SOAW works to close the School of the Americas now renamed the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) where students have been trained in counter-intelligence techniques, torture techniques, sniper training and other maneuvers that have led to massacres, repression against opposition and dissent, the creation of torture centers, and other crimes against humanity.

Although heavily redacted, lawyers for PCJF determined through released documents that the FBI in conjunction with local law enforcement conducted surveillance on the SOAW organization for at least 10 years.  Within these documents, the FBI acknowledged the peaceful activity of the organization yet continued the use of confidential informants inside the movement to gather additional information.  It was through 2010 court proceedings following a mass arrest at the annual SOAW vigil that it was discovered the movement had been infiltrated when informants appeared in court to testify against those arrested during the mass sweep.  The arrests snagged 24 people including one KGNU reporter along with three other reporters.

From that 2010 incident KGNU reported that these informants led and coerced marchers onto the streets of Columbus where the mass arrests began.  It was the next year in 2011 when these same informants appeared at the vigil again but were refused admittance to the annual event by those in the SOAW movement who recognized them from the prior year.

In a press release received this morning from SOAW, the organization said that, “The FBI utilized counter-terrorism authority to continue to monitor for the potential of ‘more aggressive protest participants,’ ‘factions of a radical cell,’ and/or other pre-textual alarmist warnings to justify spying on protected First Amendment political activity. The vague, unspecified threat of future violence functioned as the annual excuse for the surveillance of peaceful dissent despite annual FBI reports that the vigils were “peaceful, uneventful,” and could be described as a ‘street festival.’”

Other documents obtained and released by the PCJF demonstrated that the Department of Homeland Security and the network of Fusion Centers in the United States allocated resources to monitor, track and report on peaceful, lawful and constitutionally protected protest activities.  The FBI has recently been further exposed as monitoring and tracking, including through surveillance aircraft, the activities of the Black Lives Matter movement in cities around the United States.

“This unconscionable abuse by the FBI to use its counter-terrorism authority against peaceful political movements – from SOAW, to Occupy, to Black Lives Matter — makes it clear that the FBI cannot be its own watchdog, nor self-regulate. It is time for there to be legislatively enacted prohibitions on the FBI’s use of domestic terrorism authority against peaceful protest and First Amendment-protected free speech activities in the United States.” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

This year for the first time SOAW is supporting US legislation- HR 1232 the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act- sponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) .  If passed the bill would limit the types of equipment the Pentagon could transfer to local police, would prevent transfers of high-caliber weapons, long-range acoustic devices, grenade launchers, weaponized drones, armored military vehicles, and grenades or similar explosives in most cases.

SOAW will hold its annual vigil the 20-22nd of November in Columbus, Georgia at the gates of Fort Benning, home to the School of the Americas.  Speakers are scheduled who will give testimonials about US policies that have led to the repression experienced by themselves or others in their countries from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Chile, Colombia, and Peru.  KGNU has reported in the past from Honduras and Peru where SOA graduates have received their training at SOA/WHINSEC.

KGNU will again report from the annual SOAW vigil this year.


photos:  KGNU news

2010 mass arrests and 2009 surveillance

photos below:  KGNU News

A mock demonstration of the children who have been killed by SOA graduates, a stage performance and a funeral procession carrying and placing of crosses bearing the names of those killed by SOA graduates (2009).

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