FBI Embroiled in 'Spy Files' 

Feds sought intelligence on environmental rally in the Springs

The Denver and Colorado Springs police departments aren't the only agencies that have collected intelligence about political activists in the Springs.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations has, too.

In the first admission linking the FBI to the Denver Police Department's controversial "spy files," the agency confirmed this week that it had sought information on activists attending a protest rally in Colorado Springs in June of last year. An FBI anti-terrorism agent asked Springs police to provide him with the vehicle license-plate numbers of environmentalists who were picketing a timber-industry gathering at The Broadmoor hotel, confirmed Ann Atanasio, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Denver division.

The FBI also knew about the rally in advance and warned the industry group meeting at The Broadmoor that it might be targeted by protesters, the industry group's president said.

For civil libertarians, the incident and other recently surfaced evidence conjure up memories of the days when the FBI routinely spied on political dissidents -- a practice that was condemned and officially ended following congressional hearings in 1976.

"To the extent that the FBI is engaged in collecting information about peaceful protesters that have no connection to criminal activity, that raises very profound civil-liberties concerns," said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union's Colorado chapter.

The FBI, however, denies singling out dissidents for surveillance.

"The only reason we would have collected information was if someone was the subject of an investigation," Atanasio said. "We do not routinely go out and look at people because we find them interesting."

Criminal extremists = Quakers

The ACLU sued the Denver Police Department last year after discovering that the department's detectives had compiled files on thousands of political activists, from anti-abortion groups to Catholic nuns, most of whom had broken no laws. Colorado Springs police contributed to the files by submitting information about local activists. In a settlement reached last month, Denver police agreed to stop the surveillance.

But recently unsealed court records from the "spy files" lawsuit also indicate that on several occasions, law-enforcement agents around the state have passed information about political rallies to Tom Fisher, an agent with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Denver.

In addition, an undated memo from the anti-terror task force to Denver police, issued before the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, states that "the FBI is compiling a list of individuals who might impose a risk to the Olympics or the security of the United States."

Categories of such individuals included anarchists, militia, white supremacist, "black extremist," "animal rights extremist," "environmental extremist," "domestic extremist," "radical Islamic extremist," "European origin extremist," "Latin origin extremist" and "Asian origin extremist," according to the memo.

Yet another document, a Denver police file marked "JTTF active case list," contains printouts made last year of Web sites operated by three Denver-based peace groups, among others.

Fisher didn't respond to requests for comment, but FBI spokeswoman Atanasio confirmed that Fisher had requested and received a list identifying people who attended last year's rally at The Broadmoor. "He requested information in which there was a legitimate law-enforcement interest," she said.

She wouldn't elaborate on what that interest was, but said the list was ultimately useless. "It was subsequently determined that the information was of no investigative relevance to the JTTF, and no further action was taken upon it," Atanasio said. "I can't comment further."

Atanasio said she wasn't familiar with the memo about "extremist" groups and didn't know who might fit the definition of such a group. "I don't think I could get that information," she said.

The "spy files," however, give a hint. Among the groups listed as "criminal extremists" in Denver police intelligence files -- some of which were passed on to the FBI -- was the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace organization.

Hung a banner

Meanwhile, the head of the timber-industry group that met at The Broadmoor told the Independent that Agent William Petoskey of the FBI's Colorado Springs office contacted him a month before the conference to warn him about the planned protests.

"It was very alarming," said Nicholas Kent, president of the North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA). "I've never had the FBI call me to tell me that someone has targeted our group."

About 30 protesters showed up at The Broadmoor, and the rally turned out mostly peaceful, though three activists were arrested for hanging a banner from a window at the hotel.

Petoskey didn't respond to a request for comment, and Atanasio, the FBI spokeswoman, said she wasn't aware of his involvement.

However, if Petoskey knew about the planned rally, it would have been appropriate to warn NAWLA, Atanasio said. "That would be a legitimate law-enforcement function, to notify a group that there may be protests occurring -- especially in the event that they might become violent."

But Silverstein, of the ACLU, said that even if three protesters were arrested for hanging a banner, that doesn't explain the need for FBI anti-terror agents to get involved. He also noted that Fisher got the list of activists' license-plate numbers weeks after the event was over -- by which time it was clear that most people on the list had done nothing illegal.

"The Joint Terrorism Task Force ought to be in the business of tracking down international terrorists and domestic terrorists," Silverstein said. "And no matter how broadly the FBI defines 'domestic terrorism,' it surely can't include peaceful political speech."

-- tlangeland@csindy.com


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