Coleen Rowley being interviewed at an action at the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. by Bill Hughes

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, nearly one week ago, a few hundred activists participated in two protest actions, one at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the other at Quantico Brig, where Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower who leaked the “Collateral Murder” video and possibly other information like the U.S. Embassy Cables to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, is being held in solitary confinement. The two actions had a profound connection: Martin Luther King. Jr, who if alive today would be standing up for Bradley Manning and against the FBI witch-hunt being carried out on activists in Chicago and the Twin Cities area.

Coleen Rowley, the former FBI agent and whistleblower, who was awarded TIME’s “Person of the Year” Award in 2002 (along with two other whistleblowers who received the award as well), explains in an interview, “To the extent that Manning seems to be a victim of this much greater official repression, it does hearken back to the days when a civil rights leader could be targeted by the FBI.”

An organizer with the Defending Dissent Foundation (DDF), Sue Udry, reported on the two actions explaining that more than one hundred gathered at the FBI headquarters at noon. About thirty people with Witness Against Torture, who were Washington, D.C., for their twelve days of fasting action to call attention to the Obama Administration’s failure to close Guantanamo, were there in orange jumpsuits. CODEPINK, people with DDF, and others from a local civil liberties organization showed up to call attention to the injustice going on in the Midwest.

On January 25th, twelve anti-war and international solidarity activists will be expected to appear before a grand jury in Chicago. They and eleven others from Chicago and the Twin Cities area in Minnesota in the past months were subpoenaed. Several of the activists had their homes raided. Documents, cell phones, storage disks, computers, and children’s artwork were seized from their home. The subpoenas indicated the FBI was looking for evidence that the activists had provided “material support for terrorism.” And, recently, it was discovered that the FBI had an informant, who went by the name of “Karen Sullivan,” infiltrate an anti-war group in the Twin Cities.

Rowley says of the FBI investigation, “History is repeating itself.” War has produced pressure to find terrorists at home. She said the war that we were told was going to be fought over there so we wouldn’t have to fight it here has now turned inward. She cites as evidence not only the infiltration of antiwar groups by informants but also the Office of Management and Guidance’s plans to looks for “unhappy employees in the government” who might be “disloyal.” Also, she believes the GOP has plans for “McCarthy-like” hearings in the House (perhaps, to be lead by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

The whistleblower, who spent twenty four years in the FBI before unveiling how the FBI had failed to take action on information provided by the Minneapolis, Minnesota Field Office on suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, recounts how the FBI informant “Karen Sullivan” became such a part of the Anti-War Committee:

If you go back to 2008 when this undercover actually came into Minnesota–and I was actually in two groups that she was first spotted at, not the Antiwar Committee, she was first spotted at a CODEPINK meeting where they were discussing that in the march on the [Republican National Convention] they were going to make big pink puppets. I mean, if you think about why would government even be spending its time sitting in a meeting talking about making puppets. That’s how unbelievable this is and I was actually sitting next to her. This was probably late spring of 2008.

Then she came to our banner peace vigils that my group–We had about twenty people and we held a red banner that said “Support the Troops, End the War” over a highway. Totally legal in Minnesota law. When I was sitting next to her, I said come to ours and hold this banner. She came four or five times to our vigil.”

At the US Social Forum in Detroit in June of 2010, she represented the Anti-War Committee. At the School of Americas Watch protest action, she helped lead the protest. At local meetings, she was taking leadership roles. This went on for two and a half years.

Rowley discusses how this happened during Vietnam. Martin Luther King Jr. was a victim of McCarthyism in the late “50s and early “60s. That later turned into COINTELPRO. She recounted how “the COINTELPRO group actually wrote an anonymous letter to MLK”that basically blackmailed him on the eve of his acceptance of his Nobel Peace Prize and suggested that he might want to commit suicide otherwise the FBI might release all this derogatory information they had.” Then the FBI went after feminists, antiwar activists, and advocacy groups like the National Lawyers Guild.

While the Church Committee did work to put strict restrictions on government agencies that would protect civil liberties in the late “70s, 9/11 provided the moment for government agencies to return to the days of COINTELPRO.

According to Rowley, in April of 2008, Attorney General guidelines were “eradicated” reversing the “presumption that you need level of factual justification” or something to show to support infiltrating or closely monitoring an activist group. This to her is largely symptomatic of the world created in the aftermath of 9/11, “Top Secret America,” which William M. Arkin and Dana Priest investigated for the Washington Post.

Part of it is, with 854,000 analysts, agents, consultants, operatives and contractors, 854,000 — Between you and I, the average salary has got to be close to $100,000 for each of these. They have to prove that they’re working. I can talk about the FBI that there are things called “work performance evaluations. And every so often there’s a periodic evaluation where you actually have to show your statistics and these are things like subpoenas served and arrests and convictions. And the emphasis is on “terrorism” because that’s the priority right now. So there’s a strong pressure to categorize many, many things as “terrorism.” And you’ve got to show that you’re doing something. In fact, some of those abuses that the IG were basically a slow work day. So they have to actually keep busy and they have to do things. So you’re going to this create systemic pressure toward opportunistic opening of cases, infiltrating, and even prosecuting.

It’s also quantity of massive data collection over quality, which actually is counterproductive. From the standpoint of law enforcement, what good does it do to collect all of this irrelevant data? All it’s doing is making it hard to focus in on any true terrorist threats.

She highlights how FBI wasting resources on infiltrating antiwar groups just might be why terrorists like Abdulmutallab, Shahzad and Hasan slipped past the FBI. If the FBI wasn’t sending people to infiltrate organizations like the Thomas Merton Center or protecting corporate profits by infiltrating and working to disrupt or stall environmental groups, they would have more of an ability to actually prevent terror attacks.

Following the action, activists traveled thirty miles south to Quantico Brig to support Manning. Udry reported activists were not allowed to hold protest on base property and were asked to hold the protest in a commuter parking lot across a street that led to the gate of the base. About seventy or more began the protest there, but, ultimately, those in this lot decided they had come all this way to deliver a box of humanitarian aid containing blankets, books, candy, etc to Manning and were going to deliver the aid.

Activists marched with banners and signs saying, “Free Bradley Manning,” to the gate of the base and were able to hold the rally there. Udry explained that marine personnel were very respectful and easy to work with. The activists had been told to not protest in this area, but, except for some marines going in and out, who were yelling nasty remarks, the marines operating the gate were “pretty cool about it for marines.”

The marines at the base would not accept the humanitarian aid.


From the action at the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. on MLK Day. by Bill Hughes

Member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, Kevin Zeese, was one of the leaders of the march to gate of the base. He wrote in an article published on OpEdNews, “On Martin Luther King Day I joined 200 people at the Quantico Marine Base where Bradley Manning, an American citizen not convicted of anything, is being held in solitary confinement, not allowed to exercise in his 6 by 12 foot cell, not given a real pillow or blanket, with no contact with others except guards who make sure he does not sleep during the day after they wake him up at 5 in the morning.”

His treatment is what led Manning’s lawyer, David E. Coombs, to file a formal complaint alleging “the action of holding PFC Manning in Maximum (MAX) custody, under Prevention of Injury (POI) watch for over five months and recently placing him under suicide risk was an abuse of CWO4 James Averhart’s discretion, and a wrong within the meaning of Article 138, UCMJ.” It’s what led former commander of Headquarters Company at Quantico, David C. MacMichael, to object to the treatment of Bradley Manning.

In the letter, MacMichael wrote, “I wonder, in the first place, why an Army enlisted man is being held in a Marine Corps installation. Second, I question the length of confinement prior to conduct of court-martial. The sixth amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing to the accused in all criminal prosecutions the right to a speedy and public trial, extends to those being prosecuted in the military justice system. Third, I seriously doubt that the conditions of his confinement–solitary confinement, sleep interruption, denial of all but minimal physical exercise, etc.–are necessary, customary, or in accordance with law, US or international.”

On Manning and WikiLeaks, Rowley says, being a whistleblower herself, she is sympathetic to the need for releasing information when there is a case of illegal action on the part of the government. If, in fact, Manning leaked materials to WikiLeaks, she believes he did disclose evidence of war crimes so his action would be justified.

Rowley agrees the U.S. military code might provide cover for what Manning did. In the federal government, the government ethics code urges employees to disclose evidence of misconduct or wrongdoing.

Manning was caught “in a rock and a hard place.” The My Lai massacre was very similar. People know they are not supposed to be complicit with a crime but, on the other hand, if crimes are reported, those reporting the crimes will be held responsible. Rowley contends that if photos from Abu Ghraib had not gotten out and members of the military there had just complained to superiors of torture procedures would not have changed. Public disclosure forced the military to refine its operations.

As with FBI activists who are being forced to go before a grand jury in Chicago, a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, has been considering how to pursue criminal charges in the WikiLeaks case. Julian Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, told Al-Jazeera’s David Frost in December of 2010 that they had heard from Swedish authorities that a “secret empaneled grand jury” is investigating how to move forward. Attorneys and lawyers have been developing scenarios for justifying the extradition of Julian Assange to the U.S. from Sweden if Sweden successfully forces Britain to turn him over to Swedish authorities.

The top-down repression of people taking individual action against what they perceive as crimes–the activists being subjected to a witch-hunt by the FBI for mobilizing against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, for sending individuals to form relationships with people in Palestine and Colombia, and the detention of Bradley Manning and the entrapment of Julian Assange in a seemingly endless cobweb of legal proceedings–can have the broad-based effect of discouraging independent action. But, people need not be discouraged from marching in the streets. They need not be discouraged from organizing lawful antiwar rallies or marches or trips to other countries or afraid of following their conscience when they witness criminal misconduct.

Activists who are exercising their rights are being subjected to a post-9/11 form of McCarthyism. Bradley Manning is being held as a “maximum security detainee.” The government is abusing its power and the only check on this power, especially when political leaders in democracy fail to object, are we the people, standing up to support the right for truth to win out and the rights of all people to be upheld no matter what people think about government and society.