Thursday, May 29, 2014

FBI files on iconoclastic musician Pete Seeger to be released online

Thousands of investigative files that the FBI maintained for more than half a century on folk singer Pete Seeger are set to be released to the public online, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has told Al Jazeera.

When Seeger died in January at the age of 94, dozens of journalists, researchers and curious members of the public sought his files from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI has been informing requesters that it turned over all of Seeger’s files to the NARA before his death.

NARA spokeswoman Miriam Kleinman said in an interview that the archive would now seek to publish the files once it completes processing them. They are thought to total about 2,500 pages and need to be screened for information that is exempt from disclosure, as well as names and details that might be redacted to protect the identities of informants or confidential sources.

“As soon as possible, NARA will post this file online,” Kleinman said. “We are waiting for review to be complete.”

The NARA initially decided to release the files only to researchers on request, for a hefty administrative fee of at least $2,000. But Kleinman said public interest in the files prompted a switch in policy.

Seeger, the subject of secret FBI and CIA surveillance dating to the 1940s, was blacklisted during the McCarthy era because of his political beliefs and was indicted for contempt of Congress.


FBI spied on Nelson Mandela during first U.S. trip

The FBI spied on Nelson Mandela when the legendary South African leader arrived in the United States in June 1990, according to newly released files exclusively obtained by Al Jazeera. A May 30, 1990, FBI memo from the Atlanta field office to then–FBI Director William Sessions about the upcoming visit noted that the bureau had cultivated a new confidential informant — either directly within Mandela’s inner circle or closely affiliated with his entourage — who had provided logistical information about Mandela’s travel itinerary.

Mandela arrived in the U.S. four months after his release from 27 years in prison, not only as the world’s most celebrated political prisoner and liberation icon but also as the leader of a U.S.-designated “terrorist organization.” The African National Congress was not removed from the State Department’s list of such organizations until 2008. Moreover, it was widely alleged at the time that the CIA had provided information to the apartheid authorities in South Africa that led to Mandela’s arrest in 1962, in line with a Cold War approach that treated many African liberation leaders as threats to U.S. interests.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Murder charges overturned for ex-FBI agent linked to Whitey Bulger

The Florida Third District Court of Appeals Wednesday overturned a murder conviction and subsequent 40-year prison sentence for former FBI agent and James “Whitey” Bulger associate John J. Connolly Jr.

Connolly was convicted in 2008 for the second-degree murder of businessman John Callahan. The hit man, who admitted to killing Callahan said that he was hired to do so only after Connolly warned Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi that Callahan planned testify against the two mobsters for a separate murder charge.

For his connection to the Callahan’s murder, the former FBI agent was sentenced to 40 years behind bars.

The appeals court ruled that the second-degree murder conviction was affected by the statute of limitations at the time, leading to the prosecution’s improper use of a firearm charge to allow for “reclassification” of a life prison sentence — for which the statute of limitations did not apply.

“Connolly’s conviction for second-degree murder with a firearm should not have been reclassified to a life felony in order to circumvent the statute of limitation,” wrote the court in its majority opinion.

“Without the fundamentally erroneous reclassification, the first-degree felony of second-degree murder was time-barred.”

Connolly will remain in prison for the time being while the prosecution seeks an appeal.

Source URL:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

DOJ reverses no-recording policy for interrogations

Since the FBI began under President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, agents have not only shunned the use of tape recorders, they've been prohibited by policy from making audio records of statements by criminal suspects without special approval.

Now, after more than a century, the U.S. Department of Justice quietly has reversed that directive by issuing orders May 12 that audio recording, preferably with video, is presumptively required for interrogations of suspects in custody, with some exceptions.

There was no news release or news conference to announce the radical shift. But a DOJ memorandum obtained by The Arizona Republic spells out the changes that will begin July 11.

Read more:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How the FBI Goes After Activists

Tom Burke was driving through a sleepy part of Grand Rapids, Michigan—an empty neighborhood full of abandoned warehouses—when he first noticed the vehicle tailing him. “I was like, Why is this car turning left whenever I turn left?” he recalled. “I figured out I was being followed.”

Tom, a 49-year-old who has been active in antiwar and labor circles for decades, had been monitored for months by the FBI, and that morning, September 24, 2010, the Bureau was moving against him and his fellow activists. Agents had raided the homes of some of Tom’s friends, seizing computers and tearing apart rooms as part of an investigation into whether they were planning an armed revolution and providing aid to terrorist organizations. In response, Tom was on his way to an internet cafĂ© to issue a press release telling the world what was happening, which was about all he could do given the circumstances.

That same morning, he and his wife were served with subpoenas demanding they testify before a grand jury. By December, 23 activists across the Midwest were subpoenaed and asked to answer for their activism. Among other things, they were accused of providing “material support” for terrorism, a charge that can mean anything from providing guns to a terrorist group to providing any sort of “advice or assistance” to members of such a group, even if that advice is “lay down your arms.” (Former president Jimmy Carter warned a few months before the raids that the threat of a “material support” charge “inhibits the work of human-rights and conflict-resolution groups.”)

Nearly four years later no one has been charged with a crime, and an unsealed affidavit, which the FBI used to get a federal judge to sign off on the 2010 raids, even notes that this group of mostly middle-aged peace activists explicitly rejected the idea of providing arms to anyone. The document, released by court order last month in response to requests from the activists, shows that an undercover special agent was intent on luring people into saying ominous things about “revolution” and, sometimes, some of these people indulged her, which provided the pretext for legally harassing a group known to oppose US policy at home and abroad.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Document Deep Dive: Richard Nixon’s Application to Join the FBI

Fresh out of law school, the future president first hoped he could be one of J. Edgar Hoover’s agents

The abridged biography of Richard Nixon, as most know it, goes something like this. Born the son of a grocer and housewife, Nixon grew up in southern California and attended Whittier College, a small liberal arts college less than 20 miles from Los Angeles. He graduated from Duke University’s law school, moved home to California and started practicing law. He was first elected as a U.S. congressman in 1946 and then a senator in 1950, then served as vice president and eventually the president, before resigning in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

The National Archives, however, adds a surprising little insert into that timeline. That is, a 24-year-old Nixon applied to be a special agent in the FBI in 1937.

Submitted on April 23, Nixon’s application, once part of the FBI’s files, is now in the holdings of the National Archives. For likely the first time ever, the document is on display to the public in “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” an exhibition featuring more than 100 signed artifacts at the archives through January 5, 2015.

“It is a nice window into a moment in Richard Nixon’s life that people probably don’t think about,” says Jennifer Johnson, the exhibition’s curator. “He has just finished law school, and like everyone, he is clearly trying to figure out what he wants to do.”

As the story goes, Nixon attended a lecture by an FBI special agent while studying at Duke. Just before he graduated with his law degree in June, 1937, he formally applied to the bureau. He was contacted for an interview, which he did in July of that year, and completed a physical exam at the request of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. But, after that, it was radio silence. He never received a response.

On June 11, 1954, the then-Vice President Richard Nixon spoke at the FBI National Academy’s graduation. Hoover actually introduced him, saying that he took special pleasure in doing so, because Nixon had once applied to the bureau. “Having already embarked upon the practice of law, the FBI’s loss ultimately became the country’s gain,” remarked Hoover. Nixon, in a later address to the academy, said, “he never heard anything from that application.”

In his memoirs, Nixon describes being at a party during his vice presidency, when he approached Hoover and expressed an interest in knowing what had happened. The exchange prompted the FBI to open Nixon’s file. Apparently, Nixon was accepted, but his appointment was revoked in August 1937, before he was ever notified. The details are murky. According to Nixon, Hoover told him that he was ultimately not hired due to budget cuts made to the bureau that year. But, it has also been said that Nixon’s plan to take the California bar exam in September didn’t jibe with the FBI’s hiring schedule.

Either way, it is an interesting game of “what if,” says Johnson.

See Nixon's application:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How the FBI Routinely Breaks the Law and Endangers Lives

If you or one of your close friends were the possible target of a sniper assassination, and if law enforcement knew about it, shouldn’t law enforcement have an obligation to tell you? And if they deliberately didn’t tell you, wouldn’t you be legitimately concerned that your potential assassin may be part of law enforcement?
In November of 2011, I arrived at Tranquility Park in downtown Houston about 15 minutes late for Occupy Houston’s nightly general assembly. I was having trouble finding a parking place when I noticed that the park was bathed in the flashing red and blue lights of the Houston PD's cars surrounding the park, and there were television news trucks adjacent to the park broadcasting live. I thought we were being evicted, and ran to the scene.
Just moments before I arrived, a 21-year-old man named Joshua Anthony Twohig had walked into the park, dressed in a suit and carrying a .40 caliber assault rifle. He pointed his gun at several of my Occupy Houston comrades, fired several shots into the air, and was shot by police before being taken into custody. As someone with a history of mental illness, Twohig was ruled incompetent to stand trial in January of 2012. The incident spooked a lot of people at the camp, many of us wondering if any of us were targets of a larger plot.
In December 2012, documents revealed by a FOIA request from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund showed that the FBI was investigating the Occupy Wall Street movement – a movement that explicitly operated on principles of nonviolence and direct democracy – for “criminal activity” and “domestic terrorism.” Those documents also revealed the FBI’s knowledge of a November 2011 assassination plot in which leaders of the Occupy Houston movement were targeted. In these public documents the FBI redacted the names of the individuals and/or groups plotting the assassination with high-powered rifles, and never approached anyone at Occupy Houston alerting them that their lives were in danger.