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Coalition letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner on FBI Guidelines

Coalition letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner on FBI Guidelines
June 20, 2002

Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Sensenbrenner:

On behalf of a broad coalition ranging from conservative, religious, libertarian and other organizations, we want to congratulate you for taking the initiative to protect our Constitutional rights and liberties regarding the recent decision of the Attorney General to loosen the guidelines restricting the surveillance of religious and political organizations in the United States.

Given the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s actions under the old guidelines, we are concerned that the new era will usher in an invigorated campaign against lawful dissent and religious expression.

During the previous Administration, the American people witnessed an FBI that routinely overstepped the boundaries of its authority by eroding the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Under Attorney General Reno, the FBI targeted religious groups as well as pro-life and pro-Second Amendment organizations and labeled them as likely to commit acts of terror. That created a mindset within the agency that those who previously have stood for American ideals, are now seen as potential terrorists.

In 1999 the FBI released a report to all state and local law enforcement authorities entitled “Project Megiddo.” The report aimed at increased surveillance of individuals and groups “who profess an apocalyptic view of the millennium or attach special significance to the year 2000.” This was a clear example of unwarranted surveillance of those citizens who profess strong religious beliefs, oppose United Nations policies, are pro-Second Amendment or pro-life.”

A product of the Project Megiddo report was the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force flyer put out by the Phoenix office a few years ago instructing law enforcement officers to report individuals who are “‘defenders’ of the US Constitution against federal government” and others.

Unfortunately, even under a new administration, the same mindset exists within the FBI. That mindset revealed itself after the horrific events of September 11th when Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced sweeping new changes within the agency. What that meant and what it should have meant are very different. It should have meant a change from the “Reno mindset” within the FBI to a more traditional mindset where the real suspects are targeted as opposed to innocent American citizens.

We understand that law enforcement is under pressure to prevent terrorism from ever again occurring on American soil but to toss out our Constitutional rights must not be the way to proceed. The lower standards for surveillance of religious activities and political expression has the effect of casting a wider net for information when most analysts cite the inability to analyze the available information as contributing to the intelligence failure regarding the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. The emphasis now should be on the processing of information into meaningful analysis and a more directed focus of accurate information gathering. More importantly, conclusions must be based on the information gathered rather than information gathered to fit already drawn conclusions.

The First and Fourth Amendments and the system of checks and balances established in our Constitution should not be undermined under the guise of mendacious explanations for failure. We are concerned that lowering the surveillance standards would cause such a system of checks and balances to implode. “If it looks bad, it’s bad for the FBI” is a motto that invites trouble and after September 11th and the negative press that the agency has endured, it is also one that will undoubtedly be taken more seriously. The new guidelines should explicitly prohibit agents from acting outside the boundaries of the law in order to apprehend or persecute a suspect, however innocent, in order to make the agency look effective. There should be no objection to a specific prohibition on investigators acting as agents provocateur or encouraging others to violate the law in order to make cases that would not otherwise have existed.

Furthermore, since the changes only apply to domestic guidelines and not foreign, these changes would have done nothing to prevent the horrific events of September 11th had they been in place. However they will target American citizens when, in fact, surveillance efforts ought to be focused on foreign nationals and visitors to the U.S.

We would be happy to work with you and your staff on this issue. If you would like, please contact J. Bradley Jansen.

Sincerely,

Lisa Dean
Vice President for Policy
Free Congress Foundation

William J. Murray
Chairman
Religious Freedom Coalition

Larry Pratt
Executive Director
Gun Owners of America

Grover Norquist President
Americans for Tax Reform

Steve Dasbach
Executive Director
Libertarian Party

Jane Orient, MD
Executive Director
Association of American Physicians & Surgeons

Charles H. Cunningham
Director of Federal Affairs
National Rifle Association

James Cox
President
Association of Concerned Taxpayers

Connie Mackey
Vice President for Government Affairs
Family Research Council

Jerry Berman
Executive Director
Center for Democracy and Technology

Amit A. Pandya
Counsel
Open Society Policy Center

Joe Eldred
President and Founder
God Bless America

Larry Cirignano, Esq.
President
CatholicVote.org

Katherine Albrecht
Founder and Director
CASPIAN – Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering

Alex Koroknay-Palicz
Executive Director
National Youth Rights Association

Chuck Muth
National Chairman
Republican Liberty Caucus

James Landrith
Editor & Publisher
The Multiracial Activist

F. Paul Valone
Executive Director, Rights Watch International
President, Grass Roots North Carolina

Scott Weinberg
Director of Governmental Affairs
Population Research Institute

Telly Lovelace
Director of External Affairs
Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education (C.U.R.E.)

Frances B. Smith
Executive Director
Consumer Alert

Christopher Whalen
The Whalen Consulting Group
New York

Kathryn Serkes
President
Square One Media Network

David R. Burton
Partner
Argus Group

James Boucher
President/CEO
JB Computer Consulting

Steven C. Smith
Chancellor
Henricus College

Michael H. Smith,
President
Thomas More Institute

Kat DeBurgh
Chair
Libertarian Party of the District of Columbia

Doug Stiegler
Executive Director
Family Protection Lobby – Maryland

Mike Fellows
Chair
Montana Libertarian Party

Lee Kershner, Member
Citizen WatchGroup
Las Cruces, NM

Michael D. Ostrolenk
President
Global Integral Research

Galen E. Alexander Founder/Chairman
Ohio Conservative Alliance

Gerry Poulos
Chairman
Ohio Conservative Coalition

William Riley
Director
NW Council of Governments