DOJ Criticizes FBI for Targeting Activist Groups

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) absolved the FBI of charges that agents conducted investigations of domestic groups based on their exercise of First Amendment rights. In addition to Greenpeace and PETA, according to the report, the FBI targeted the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh anti-war organization, the Catholic Worker, another anti-war group, and an individual Quaker peace activist.

The DOJ’s report criticizes the FBI for beginning investigations on a weak factual basis, continuing investigations longer than necessary, inappropriately retaining information on file and misclassifying investigations, and investigating issues of state, rather than federal, law. Additionally, the report indicates that Greenpeace advocates were inappropriately added to the terrorist watch list.

The ACLU contended that the FBI based its investigation of certain groups based solely on the organization’s political views, such as opposition to the war in Iraq. For example, an FBI report indicated that agents photographed members of the Thomas Merton Center during a November 2002 gathering, during which members handed out leaflets opposing the war in Iraq. Following a lawsuit from groups including the ACLU and Greenpeace, the DOJ admitted in 2005 that the FBI has thousands of pages of records on file probing US civil rights, environmental, and other advocacy groups.