Antiwar and international solidarity activists, subjects of a federal grand jury investigation that alleges they may have provided “material support for terrorism,” uncovered documents on FBI guidelines and investigation practices left behind in an activist’s home that was raided in September of last year. The documents illuminate how the FBI has conducted surveillance of the activists being targeted in the investigation and further prove the grand jury is being used as a tool to go after political groups.
On September 24 of last year, the home of Lindon Gawboy and Mick Kelly, an activist who helped to organize a mass demonstration outside the Republican National Convention in 2008, was raided and subpoenaed. Gawboy was awoken by FBI pounding on her door. She came to the door and asked for a search warrant. The FBI ignored her request for a warrant and proceeded to use a battering ram, which took the door off its hinges and shattered a nearby fish tank.
The agents raiding Gawboy and Kelly’s home emptied file cabinets and desks and stacked files around the apartments. They set up and went through individual documents taking files away that were of interest to them. At some point during this process, an agent’s papers on the investigation became mixed in with Kelly’s files. And, presumably by chance, Gawboy found the revealed documents just weeks ago.
The documents show the investigation was “predicated on the activities of Meredith Aby and Jessica Rae Sundin in support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a U.S. State Department designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO), to include their travel to FARC controlled territory.” Bruce Nestor, an attorney advising individuals that have been issued subpoenas in this investigation, explains “predicate” is a word that typically connotes “what’s necessary to begin an investigation into protected First Amendment activity.”
Current FBI guidelines, according to Nestor, actually do not require a predicate to begin a preliminary question. This means the FBI can send agents and law enforcement officers into public meetings undercover to gather publicly available information and store that information about activists in perpetuity.
Sundin, a founding member of the Twin Cities-based Anti-War Committee, says she traveled to Colombia to witness peace talks between the FARC and the Colombia government. She flew into Colombia on an airplane owned by the Colombia military. Sundin was interested in what it would take to end a decades-long conflict in a country that is the biggest recipient of US military aid in Latin America.
“What I find disturbing about the line of questions is its attempt to stir up a kind of 1950s Red Scare within the antiwar movement,” declares Sundin. In particular, the questions indicate the FBI was interested in information on the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
“It’s true some of us are socialists, but that’s not against the law. A lot of us have grievances with capitalism,” explains Sundin. “The government has no right to dictate to the antiwar movement who can and cannot be in our movement.”
Nestor notes the document containing “Interrogation Questions” include the question, “Have you ever met Lilia Obando?” Obando, according to Nestor, is “a union organizer in Colombia who Colombian military intelligence alleges is a member of the FARC, a guerrilla revolutionary in Colombia.”
Obando lived in Canada for years, has participated in speaking events in the United States and traveled to the United States “with a visa granted under laws that state people suspected of membership in terrorist organizations cannot be granted visas.”
Joe Iosbaker, one of the targeted activists, explains the investigation has been using a “weapon” given to them in June of last year, a Supreme Court decision called Holder v. Humanitarian Law. The decision determined that “some speech is no longer protected by the Constitution. Speech that is “coordinated with, directed to or directed from an organization that is on the State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list can be construed to be material support for a foreign terrorist organization.”
Nestor illuminates how the decision is being used against citizens like Aby and Sundin:
Now, years after she visited, people’s homes are being raided and the FBI intends to interrogate people about their contact with Miss Obando. These laws, the material support laws, actually specify that providing lodging is a form of material support. Not providing weapons or money or you don’t need the intent to further any kind of activity but merely providing lodging. So years after coming to the Twin Cities people can be questioned. Did they know her? Did they meet with her? Who else did they meet? What did they know when they met with her? Because [people] can be accused of providing lodging for someone who a foreign intelligence service that receives billions of dollars in US aid now claims is part of an organization that the US State Dept claims to be a terrorist organization. That can become a criminal predicate for a much larger investigation.
The “reach of the material support law is so broad that people who want to travel internationally, that want to speak to people, that want to talk to union organizers are at threat of the types of activities and raids we are seeing here,” concludes Nestor.
Nestor asks, “What is the ability of citizens to gather information on their own and to come to their own views on US foreign policy?” and, “Are we supposed to accept on blind faith that aid to Colombia that’s allied with right wing paramilitaries and has the highest rate of killing of trade unionists” is justified?
This question gets to what presumably could be the key motivation for the investigation: it seems the investigation and the material support laws aim to deter citizens from challenging the national security establishment.
The focus of the investigation is not just limited to Colombia. The “Interrogation Questions” show the FBI is also interested in what the activists’ connections to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The FBI wanted to know, specifically, what Kelly knew about Maha Nassar, chair of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
The investigation has grown into a “giant monster,” says Sundin. It includes 6 FBI Division offices, seven homes that have been raided and twenty-three activists that have been subpoenaed.
Additionally, Aby, who has been engaged in antiwar and international solidarity activism since 1994, read the “Operations Order” and concludes the raid on the Gawboy-Kelly home was a direct affront to a US citizen’s right to bear arms, which is protected under the Second Amendment.
The order notes Kelly is “believed to be the owner of an unknown number of firearms that may be in his home.” She explains the Second Amendment and Minnesotat state law protects a person’s right to own arms and adds “gun ownership should not be considered legitimate grounds for this level of risk that was posed to both Mick and Lindon’s safety.”
Written in the order is the word “DANGEROUS” in all caps next to Kelly’s name. The document indicates that FBI agents were instructed to bring machine guns, assaulted rifles and two extra clips of ammo for each of their side arms. It shows that two paramedics were to be present in case of casualties. The document cast him as an “action movie villain” claiming he had offered weapons training to people.
Aby’s home was raided the same day the Gawboy/Kelly home was raided. She says she was threatened by the fact that close to ten agents and officers took over her home where I was alone with her eighteen-month old daughter. Her daughter was traumatized but she’s not the only child who is now afraid. Other families’ homes have been raided and children in those homes have seen armed men break down doors all because they are executing an investigation into political groups being targeted for their activities and their ideas.
Kelly concludes from the documents, “There is a complete disregard for the rights of international solidarity and antiwar activists to express our views, our freedom of speech and our right to association. Documents make it clear that legal activitiy in solidarity with the people of Colombia and Palestine is what’s being targeted.”
A full press conference on this news can be viewed at TheUptake.org.
Below are copies of the documents that were left behind. For more on this story, go to StopFBI.net.