By Tom Hays, Associated Press
NEW YORK -- The men who showed up at John Young's
door were courteous and professional. Also
intimidating. They were, after all, from the FBI.
"Just a visit by the FBI has overtones," said
Young, a 68-year-old activist who says the
government has been monitoring a website he runs
ever since the agents visited late last year.
"Whether you've done anything wrong or not, you
think, 'Oh no.' "
With the Republican National Convention less than
two weeks away, federal agents and city police
are keeping tabs on activists and others they
believe might try to cause trouble. They are
making unannounced visits to people's homes,
conducting interviews, and monitoring websites
The effort has been overshadowed by far-reaching
counterterrorism measures planned for the Aug. 30
to Sept. 2 convention. Officials will not discuss
it in detail, other than to say investigators
always act within the law.
"We're not engaging in surveillance of groups or
individuals without legal predication," said Jim
Margolin, a spokesman for the FBI's New York
"Violent acts are not protected by the US
Constitution, and the FBI has a duty to prevent
such acts and to identify and bring to justice
those who commit them," FBI Assistant Director
Cassandra M. Chandler said yesterday n a
Ann Roman, a Secret Service spokeswoman, said its
agents expect to respond to an increase in
possible domestic threats against President Bush
and other dignitaries as the convention at
Madison Square Garden nears.
"How we do that specifically, I'm not going to go into," Roman said.
According to three law enforcement sources,
federal agents in New York have begun
interviewing people they believe might know about
plots to sow mayhem at the convention, and have
used surveillance against possible suspects.
The intelligence unit of the New York Police
Department has been watching websites operated by
self-described anarchists. It also has sent
young, scruffy-looking officers posing as
activists to protest-organizing meetings, said
one high-ranking law enforcement source, who
spoke on condition of anonymity.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New
York Civil Liberties Union, expressed alarm,
contending that few people know they have a right
to turn away the FBI. "Political interrogation
without suspicion of criminal activity harkens
back to the bad old days of the McCarthy era,"
she said. "The FBI does not have a right to
intimidate people for criticizing the government."
Officials deny the operation threatens civil
rights. They note that the FBI interviews are
voluntary, and that protest meetings and Internet
postings being monitored are public forums.
The Justice Department, through its office of
legal counsel, concluded in an April 2004 memo
that two FBI bulletins were proper in alerting
law enforcement officers last year about expected
protests in Washington, San Francisco, and Miami.
Recent FBI bulletins about antiwar protests have
urged local police to "be alert" and report
"potentially illegal acts" to federal terrorism
task forces. Illegal activity -- such as
bombings, vandalism, or trespass -- "falls
outside the scope of the First Amendment," the
Justice Department concluded.
In recent weeks, several people linked to
anarchist groups in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri,
and elsewhere have reported being "harassed" by
federal agents about the convention.
Many activists fear a repeat of the last
Republican convention, in Philadelphia, where
authorities were accused of rounding up
protesters on trumped-up charges before they
could take to the streets. Police raided a
warehouse and seized puppets that protesters
planned to use as props. They also arrested an
organizer on misdemeanor charges and held him on
$1 million bail before his case was dropped.
Authorities in New York say no preemptive strikes are planned.
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"We're not looking to get people with open
warrants or anything like that," the law
enforcement source said. "We'll only arrest them
if they commit vandalism or other illegal acts on
'Game Day.' "