Where’s Whitey?

So I’m working Monday afternoon, busy and a Skype message from one of Greenpeace’s media officers pops up on my screen and – God bless them, they’re wonderful – but it’s never good news.

A Dallas tee vee station was calling her about a report just released by the Department of Justice that detailed the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s efforts to spy on American non-governmental organizations, including Greenpeace. Nothing else I was supposed to get done got done that day.

This 209-page um, … effort… from Justice’s inspector general goes to great lengths to say that while these FBI investigations were wrong-headed and not based on federal crimes and caused FBI Director Robert Mueller III (aka “Bobby Three Sticks”) to give inaccurate information to Congress (Wasn’t Roger Clemens indicted for that?), it was all well intentioned and no one was targeted for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Three days later, I still have doubts about the FBI’s intentions. Although the report frequently features attractive blocks of black ink over sections of copy and pseudonyms are used for real people – leading me to wonder if the people the FBI identified as Greenpeacer “members” (as they call them) are affiliated with Greenpeace at all – I think that was done as a favor to the FBI, not Greenpeace.

For instance, the inspector general writes that FBI agents suspected that Greenpeace might have planned to blow up the Alaska pipeline or engage in an arson campaign or vandalize bulldozers. (Thanks, folks!) This is the problem with government work. The special agents spent a good deal of effort and tax dollars on specific investigations, all of which proved fruitless and filled with bogus “information,” but never seemed to get around to cursory general investigations. Like noticing that “peace” is the last half of Greenpeace’s name or that the organization has been around for 39 years without committing any acts of violence or property destruction, or for that matter, even allowing anyone to be injured in one of our wall-crawling direction actions. (True, Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira was killed in 1985, but that was due to French bombs planted on the Rainbow Warrior.)

So, I spent much of the rest of the day Monday talking to journalists, most of whom found the whole thing as ridiculous as I did (or pretended to, those folks like to make you feel cozy, at least at first). They challenged me a bit, as a good journalist will do, asking if they FBI might be excused some zealotry in the post-911 era. “We need to know who the terrorists are” and all that. Putting aside the fact that these shenanigans began before 911, the idea still doesn’t hold water.

This tomfoolery is reminiscent of investigations the FBI ran on Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists 50 years ago. In those days, the excuse was the cold war: “We need to know who the communist are.” Anyone with eyes to see then or now could tell Dr. King was not a communist and Greenpeacers are not terrorists. (Maybe Glenn Beck will hold a big rally for us on the National Mall!)

The other groups investigated – the Thomas Merton Center of Pittsburgh, the Catholic Workers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal – are not terrorists, either. (PeTA’s Ingrid Newkirk was in full dudgeon mode when she spoke to the press, calling the FBI “ham-handed.” Didn’t know she was allowed to say that.)

Dunno about ham, but the Washington Post this week reports that the FBI is once again looking for Leo Burt, a real terrorist, who was involved in blowing up a building at the University of Wisconsin in 1970. How many pensions were spawned by that case?

Worse still, the bureau is also (when not peeping on the peaceniks) looking for James “Whitey” Bulger, the Boston mobster who for years ruled The Hub with the assistance of (D’oh!) the FBI, which let Whitey get away with murder (literally), while accepting Whitey’s help busting his competition.

When the Drug Enforcement Administration, Massachusetts State Police and Boston Police finally closed in on Whitey in 1994, his FBI contact tipped him off. He hasn’t been seen since. Maybe he’s with Leo Burt.

© Mark Floegel, 2010

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