WASHINGTON, June 11, 2013 ― While much of the press has focused on the disturbing revelations from Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian, there is a developing lawsuit that could expose the lengths to which the FBI spied on on specific websites.
Recently Antiwar.com, with assistance from the ACLU, filed a suit in order to obtain documents about the extent of the FBI’s surveillance of their website and staff after a Freedom of Information Act request exposed that columnist Justin Raimondo and webmaster Eric Garris were specifically targeted. Garris recently discussed the background surrounding the suit, what they expect to discover if the ACLU is successful, and why other media outlets aren’t extensively covering their suit.
Kevin Kelly: Please explain how this lawsuit against the FBI came about?
Eric Garris: We were given a Freedom of Information Act obtained file by another organization that was obtained on a subject unrelated to us. One of the documents was about ninety pages, mostly redacted so we don’t know much of what it says, but it specifically mentions Antiwar.com, myself, and Justin Raimondo. It says that they have been surveilling the website, and they believe that we could be connected to terrorist elements or foreign governments.
The recommendation of the report was that they conduct a broader investigation of us. Now, we don’t know whether or not they followed through and are conducting or have conducted a broader investigation, we don’t know whether they’re still conducting surveillance of us, and we don’t know what was in most of that report. We filed a series of Freedom of Information Act documents and Privacy Act Requests asking for any documents related to the surveillance of Antiwar.com or myself or Justin Raimondo. While they acknowledge receipt of the requests, they never complied with any documents, with any explanation as to why they were not sending documents, or with anything saying that there were no documents.
Over a year and a half period the ACLU filed successive requests, and finally after getting nowhere agreed to file the lawsuit. The lawsuit requests any documents that are related to the surveillance, requests that anything related to our First Amendment rights be expunged, and that any surveillance be discontinued.
Kelly: What do you realistically expect to find in this suit?
Garris: Well, I would hope that we are going to get some of these documents, or barring that an explanation as to why we’re not getting them. What we hope to get would ultimately be an apology. I’m not sure that that’s going to happen. In terms of what I expect, I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never read about anything that was similar enough to this to know what to expect.
Kelly: Justin Raimondo wrote in one column that after the FOIA revealed the surveillance by the FBI, he seriously considered another line of work. Have you had any of those thoughts cross your mind?
Garris: It is chilling, but I don’t seriously. It’s not going to stop me from doing what I’m doing. However, it has made things more difficult. We’ve lost contributors, and we believe other contributors who have not said so are also chilled by this revelation. They don’t want their names in the FBI file. It has hurt us.
Kelly: Your suit seems to highlight the chilling atmosphere in the United States. Never before have people been so afraid to donate to a political organization out of fear that they might be harassed or targeted by law enforcement officials.
Garris: That’s right. I think that should be ― is going to be ― chilling not just to us. And there are all of these other things going on, not just with the FBI, but now the IRS. More people are probably scared of the IRS, but to know that those agencies are being used in a political manner should be very scary to everyone.
Kelly: Why do you think that your suit hasn’t attracted the same amount of attention from the media as other scandals when the focus of it is specifically violations of the law?
Garris: I don’t know exactly. Lindsey Graham for example, I think it was today or yesterday, said that he’s not sure that “bloggers should have First Amendment protection.” He talks about determining who is and isn’t a legitimate journalist. Once you have the government talking about doing that ― and they really have in the past-tried to differentiate, say, between Associated Press and Antiwar.com, with a lot of gray area in the middle ― and trying to draw a line as to where they see a legitimate journalist or not is very dangerous. It goes to the heart of the First Amendment; the government is going to be in the position to determine whose speech is protected and whose isn’t. In terms of the media coverage, I think there is a bias among larger media against upstarts. I mean that’s not across the board, I’m just saying that is something that is somewhat prevalent.
Kelly: With so much uncertainty in the world, what advice would you give to the young people of this nation/generation?
Garris: I would just say that people need to make up their own minds. They need to be informed. Don’t believe everything that you hear, try to find other points of view before you make up yours, and fight for the things that you believe in. You can really accomplish a lot if you put your mind to it … if you put your actions to it.
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