Lockyer: Don't Link Activists, Terrorists

Wednesday, 21 May 2003 06:28 by: Anonymous

  Lockyer: Don't Link Activists, Terrorists
  By Ian Hoffman
  The Oakland Tribune

  Wednesday 21 May 2003

State attorney general admits warning shouldn't have been issued before April 7 anti-war protest

  Assailed Tuesday by civil libertarians, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer said his California anti-terror intelligence center never should have issued a warning of "potential violence" by anti-war protesters at the Port of Oakland, where police five days later fired wooden slugs at activists.

  While Lockyer said he doubted the warning by the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC) triggered the April 7 firing of "less-than-lethal" ammo at protesters, the attorney general promised a review of CATIC policies, as the American Civil Liberties Union repeatedly has requested since September 2001.

  "This comment shouldn't have come from CATIC, but that may not address the full responsibility we have," Lockyer said by phone Tuesday.

  Lockyer stopped shy of saying the California Department of Justice shouldn't monitor protesters or issue warnings about their activities. But he pointedly disavowed his own spokesman's comments drawing parallels between anti-war protesters and terrorists.

  CATIC spokesman Mike Van Winkle, an employee of the state Justice Department, said last week that "you can almost argue that a protest against (a war ostensibly against international terrorism) is a terrorist act."

  "I disassociate myself strenuously from his comments," Lockyer said. "They do not reflect my philosophy or the policy of this administration."

  Lawyers for the ACLU pressed Lockyer in a fax earlier Tuesday to stop CATIC's collection of information on nonviolent protesters and to prohibit monitoring of political groups by law enforcement.

  CATIC does not store intelligence on protest groups, the attorney general said. "We do not maintain political dossiers or records on political protesters."

  In a story Sunday, The Oakland Tribune revealed that Lockyer's anti-terror intelligence center -- a centerpiece of reelection bids for Lockyer and Gov. Gray Davis -- routinely has issued warnings to law enforcement about activists and protests since its creation in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

  "The revelations in the Oakland Tribune story confirm our worst fears: CATIC is not only being used to gather and disseminate information about nonviolent protesters but equates peaceful protest with terrorism itself," said Mark Schlosberg, director of police practices policy for ACLU Northern California.

  American Civil Liberties Union officials in San Francisco and Los Angeles repeatedly have warned Lockyer and his staff that CATIC's intelligence gathering could pose dangers to basic freedoms, including First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly, and a state constitutional right to privacy. The ACLU carried this message starting in September 2001, in three letters and two meetings with Justice Department staff, the most recent in mid-January.

  "Each time we raised concerns, we were assured by you and by your staff that important civil liberties, including California's constitutional right to privacy, would not be sacrificed," ACLU officials in Northern and Southern California wrote Lockyer on Tuesday.

  "It is against this backdrop that we write to express our utter dismay over revelations reported in The Oakland Tribune on May 18 that, rather than being used exclusively to combat terrorism, CATIC 'since Day One' has been used to gather and analyze information on protest activity and activists," wrote Schlosberg and Ben Wizner, staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.

  On April 2, CATIC issued a statewide warning of "potential violence" at the port protest -- a bulletin based more on innuendo and inaccurate information than evidence of a propensity for violence, according to a review of the information CATIC used to prepare the bulletin.

  CATIC's warning, also posted on a national criminal intelligence-sharing network, drew on a call by Direct Action to Stop the War for protesters to "shut down the war merchants." But it neglected to note the group's specific and public directions to port protesters not to engage in civil disobedience or other conduct likely to prompt arrests.

  CATIC officials argued last week that analysts were justified in gathering information about the port protest because protesters were expected to commit crimes by blocking streets or possibly impairing the flow of trucks into the port.

  "I've heard terrorism described as anything that is violent or has an economic impact, and shutting down a port certainly would have some economic impact," CATIC spokesman Van Winkle said. "Terrorism isn't just bombs going off and killing people."

  The comments, which Lockyer also disavowed, were deeply disturbing to civil libertarians.

  "The range of protest activity that has an 'economic impact' is so broad that would include boycotts or strikes launched by labor unions, peaceful civil disobedience by civil rights protesters or, in this most recent circumstance, a peaceful anti-war picket at the Oakland Port," wrote the ACLU's Schlosberg and Wizner. "Is it the position of the Justice Department that such activity is, in fact, terrorist?

  In his office and campaign statements, Lockyer portrayed CATIC -- the new home for many of the state Justice Department's criminal intelligence analysts -- as California's leading tool in the war on terror while protecting civil liberties.

  Lockyer has instructed CATIC director Ed Manavian to produce explicit intelligence-gathering rules "that are respectful of peaceful protest activities, to delineate with some rigor the line between peaceful assembly and criminal activity."

  Lockyer plans to review those rules with the ACLU.

Last modified on Monday, 21 April 2008 13:39