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A Review of the FBI's Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups

Chapter One: Introduction

I. Background

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) initiated this review in response to congressional inquiries that raised concerns over whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had improperly targeted domestic advocacy groups for investigation based solely upon their exercise of First Amendment rights.'

The congressional inquiries were prompted by media reports describing FBI documents released by the FBI pursuant to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. For example, in a letter to the OIG, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren stated that the circumstances described in the news reports "suggest that the FBI is investigating these advocacy groups based solely on their engagement in peaceful, lawful speech and assembly activities protected under the [First] Amendment."2 In a congressional hearing, Senator Patrick Leahy questioned FBI Director Mueller about allegations that the FBI had "targeted Americans based on their exercise of First Amendment rights," and Director Mueller stated that he would welcome such an investigation by the 01G.3

II. Scope and Methodology

We reviewed FBI investigative activity relating to five groups and one individual because they were among those mentioned in the news articles and congressional inquiries related to the release of FBI documents. Our review addressed FBI activities over a 6-year period, from January 2001 to December 2006, related to the following entities:

  • The Thomas Merton Center of Pittsburgh, PA;
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA);
  • Greenpeace USA;
  • The Catholic Worker;
  • Glen Milner, (an individual); and,
  • The Religious Society of Friends (the "Quakers").4

In the case of PETA, our review focused on the investigative activities of the FBI's office in Norfolk, Virginia (Norfolk Field Division). PETA's corporate headquarters are located in Norfolk, Virginia, and during the time period covered by our review, the FBI's Norfolk Field Division conducted the investigation of PETA and several related investigations of PETA members.5

Our review focused on FBI investigative activities and documents that related to the exercise of First Amendment rights, most commonly protest activities. In general, we addressed the following issues raised by the FBI documents relating to these groups:

  • Whether the FBI targeted the groups or their members because of their First Amendment expressions rather than for a valid law enforcement purpose;
  • Whether investigations of the groups or individuals affiliated with them were adequately predicated under applicable Department of Justice (Dai) or FBI policies;
  • Whether the FBI improperly collected or retained information about the First Amendment activities of the groups or their members;
  • Whether FBI documents contain improper characterizations of the groups or their members based on their First Amendment views; and,
  • Whether the FBI improperly classified investigative matters relating to these groups or individuals as terrorism matters.

In this review, we examined over 8,000 pages of FBI documents referencing these groups. From this broad review we identified particular FBI investigations and other activities that potentially implicated the First Amendment activities of the groups or their members. In several of these matters, we examined additional FBI documents, including the complete investigative files of cases.

We conducted over 40 interviews of FBI field office and Headquarters personnel, including interviews of current and former FBI Special Agents to obtain more detailed information on predication where it was not apparent from our document review. In addition, we interviewed attorneys in the FBI's Office of General Counsel to obtain information on FBI policies relating to FBI investigative activities and the First Amendment, as well as policies governing the FBI's Domestic Terrorism program.

We also examined federal laws, the Attorney General's Guidelines, and FBI policies and guidance addressing FBI investigative authorities. During the course of our review, the Attorney General issued new FBI investigative guidelines that went into effect in December 2008. We also reviewed the 2008 Attorney General's Guidelines and the new FBI policies implementing them.

The specific FBI investigations we examined in this report occurred several years ago when different FBI policies and versions of the Attorney General's Guidelines were in effect. Nevertheless, this report is relevant to current and prospective FBI investigations that may implicate First Amendment considerations. Although the current Attorney General's Guidelines and FBI policies contain some restrictions on the conduct of such cases, they continue to allow the FBI wide latitude to pursue these investigations. As described in this report, these current policies and guidelines, like prior policies and guidelines, allow the FBI to open preliminary and full investigations through standards that are easily met. We therefore believe that the findings of this report, concerns about the FBI's activities in cases we reviewed, and the recommendations we make in this report are important for current FBI practices.

III. Organization of the Report

This report is divided into nine chapters. Chapter Two describes the relevant statutes, the Attorney Generals' Guidelines, and FBI policies governing the conduct of FBI investigations. Chapter Two also examines the predication requirements for certain investigative activities and the limitations or conditions on the FBI's use of investigative techniques that implicate First Amendment rights, including limitations on the collection or maintenance of records describing how an individual exercises his or her First Amendment rights.

Chapters Three and Four analyze the FBI's investigative activities directed at the Thomas Merton Center and PETA. Chapters Five, Six, and Seven examine the FBI's investigations of Greenpeace and The Catholic Worker. Chapter Eight analyzes the FBI's investigative activities directed at Glen Milner. In each of these chapters, we focus on those instances where predication was not readily apparent, the investigative activities were more than minimally intrusive, or the references to a group contained in FBI documents presented unique issues.

Chapter Nine summarizes our findings regarding the individual groups and sets forth our overall conclusions and recommendations.6

The FBI has identified some material in this report as "sensitive but unclassified" information that the FBI believes, if distributed publicly, could compromise the law enforcement operations of the U.S. Department of Justice or affect the privacy of certain individuals. This information is redacted (blacked out) in the public version of this report.

2 Letter from The Honorable Zoe Lofgren, U.S. House of Representatives, to Glenn A. Fine, Inspector General, Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (May 18, 2006).

3 FBI Oversight: Hearing Before the S. Jud. Comm. 109th Cong. 14 (2006). Senator Russell Feingold also wrote the FBI Director expressing concerns about the released FBI documents. See Letter from The Honorable Russell D. Feingold, U.S. Senate, to Director Robert S. Mueller, III, Federal Bureau of Investigation (April 24, 2006).

4 Our review period encompasses most of the years covered by the FOIA requests and ends in 2006, when the OIG received the Congressional inquiries.

5 PETA was the only one of the groups we reviewed that the FBI had investigated during our review period as a terrorism enterprise.

6 The FBI reviewed a draft of this report and submitted a formal response, which is attached as Appendix A.

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