The U.S. Justice Department will increase its surveillance of US citizens in a stepped-up effort to combat domestic terrorism, including those who it calls “anti-government.”
US Attorney General Eric Holder has reactivated a Clinton Administration taskforce designed to combat, for instance, so-called hate crimes.
“We … must concern ourselves with the continued danger we face from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of other causes from anti-government animus to racial prejudice,” Holder said in a Justice Department press release. “To that end, I am announcing … that the Department of Justice is reconstituting a committee on domestic terrorism that was first established nearly 20 years ago under my predecessor, Attorney General Janet Reno, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. In the wake of that incident, the committee met regularly to assess and share information about such ongoing domestic terror threats.”
Called the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee, the taskforce will be composed of representatives of the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies that are part of the Justice Department. The committee will be headed up by a US attorney.
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No agencies besides the FBI and the Justice Department’s National Security Division were named in the press release. The release did not say whether the Department of Homeland Security, the military or intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA would participate in the committee.
National Security or Threat to Civil Liberties?
Critics charged that the committee could become a threat to civil liberties because it could target individuals solely based on ideology.
“It appears there’s an attempt to marginalize people who hold views that are sharply different from those of the administration and much of the establishment,” Horace Cooper of the African American conservative group Project 21 told Western Journalism. Unlike Holder, Cooper does not believe racism poses a threat to national security or public safety.
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“We’re particularly bothered by mixing together so-called domestic insurrectionists and racists,” Cooper said. “There is simply no anti-black or anti-minority underground movement in America that is threatening in any way the stability of our government or the stability of local governments.”
Cooper demanded that Holder present evidence to justify the claims that certain “radicals” present a threat to national security. Cooper isn’t the only one who thinks that the taskforce could be a threat to civil liberties.
“Attorney General Holder’s announcement that the new taskforce will focus on evidence of anti-government animus and racial intolerance raises concerns that it could be a sweeping mandate to monitor and collect controversial speech,” Lee Rowland, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told Reuters.
Back to the 1990s … or the 1960s
It isn’t clear who the targets of the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee will be.
The 1990s were not the first time that the federal government used concern about domestic terrorism to justify surveillance of US citizens, including critics of presidential policy.
During the 1950s, 60s and 70s the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program or COINTELPRO conducted illegal surveillance on a wide variety of Americans, ranging from Martin Luther King Jr. to the Ku Klux Klan. During the 1990s, Attorney General Janet Reno’s investigations into hate groups were widely criticized as targeting conservatives.
Do you support the work of the taskforce? Let us know in the comments section below.
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