WASHINGTON — FBI agents improperly opened investigations into Greenpeace and several other domestic advocacy groups after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001 and put names of some of their members on terror watch lists with evidence that turned out to be "factually weak," the Department of Justice said Monday.
However, the internal review by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine did not conclude that the FBI purposely targeted the groups or its members, as many civil liberties advocates had charged after anti-Iraq war rallies and other protests were held during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Rather, Fine said, the FBI tactics appeared "troubling" in singling out some of the domestic groups for investigations that ran for up to five years and were extended "without adequate basis." He also questioned why the FBI continued to maintain investigative files against the groups.
"In several cases there was little indication of any possible federal crimes," Fine said. "In some cases, the FBI classified some investigations relating to nonviolent civil disobedience under its 'Acts of Terrorism' classification."
In addition to the environmental group Greenpeace, others who were investigated by the FBI included PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the antiwar groups the Catholic Worker and the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh.
Timothy Murphy, the FBI's deputy director, defended the FBI investigations, saying they were launched after tips suggested potential criminal activities. "We are pleased the report concludes the FBI did not target any groups for investigation on the basis of their First Amendment activities," Murphy said.
He conceded that some "inaccurate information" gleaned from the investigations was passed up to FBI director Robert Mueller, who used it in congressional testimony when he said the FBI had gathered information that "certain persons of interest" were believed connected to terrorism and expected to attend a 2002 antiwar rally by the Thomas Merton Center.
Michael Drohan, president of the board of directors of the Thomas Merton Center, first founded in 1972 to oppose the Vietnam War, said they believe the FBI targeted them to scare others from joining their cause.
"It is somewhat troubling that in the name of combating terrorism, they would choose an organization that they know is bent on the principle of nonviolence," Drohan said. "That they would use taxpayer money to surveil us, that's a bit outrageous.
The Department of Justice investigation determined that a probationary FBI agent was sent to a Merton Center rally in November 2002 on what the FBI field office in Pittsburgh called a "slow work day" — the day after Thanksgiving. He could not find any obvious terrorism subjects, but did photograph a Middle Eastern woman "to have something to show his supervisor."
The FBI conducted a "full investigation" into Greenpeace's planned protests at shareholder meetings for two companies in Texas and kept the investigation open "for over three years, long past the shareholder meetings that the subjects were supposedly planning to disrupt." In addition, the bureau classified their investigation as an "Act of Terrorism case" and placed several Greenpeace members on their federal watch list.
"We've had the attention of law enforcement for years," said Greenpeace senior researcher Mark Floegel. "We're always aware there's some kind of buzz around us, and that's fine. We operate out in the open. But at the same time Greenpeace cannot protect the environment without democracy, and we can't have democracy if the government doesn't respect our rights."
Asked about the surveillance, Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, said, "The FBI's ham-handed attempt to catch us with our pants down ended up backfiring. As a result, the FBI was caught with its pants down."