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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 66/No.24June 17, 2002

lead article
U.S. gov’t seeks to reverse
limits on FBI’s powers

U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft’s announcement of new rules allowing FBI agents to snoop on public meetings, church functions, and Internet sites is a probe by the U.S rulers to see if they can reverse the restrictions on the secret police that were imposed on them as the result of massive battles that toppled Jim Crow segregation, the rebellions by Blacks against cop brutality and racist discrimination, as well as the movement to end Washington’s brutal war against the Vietnamese people.

Like other probes, how far the rulers can roll back earlier gains will be tested in struggle. Their momentum from the September 11 events is long gone. Through strikes, protests, and other actions, working people are demonstrating they are in no mood to give up their rights or sacrifice their unions just because the government says it is "fighting terrorism."

20,000 students, teachers rally in New York against cutbacks
Photo - see caption below
Militant/Brian Williams
Teachers fighting for a decent contract joined high school and college students on the streets of lower Manhattan June 5 to protest cutbacks in funds for public schools by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. See Students and teachers protest education cuts in New York.

One example of this is a federal court ruling on May 29 in New Jersey that rejected the government’s policy of holding secret hearings for immigrants imprisoned after September 11 and refusing to disclose information on them. That ruling came as the result of protest actions and lawsuits. The plaintiffs argued the government actions were a violation of the detainees’ rights to due process and the public’s right to monitor actions of government officials. The court agreed.

It was a good test and showed that the U.S. rulers and their government officials cannot simply declare conquests won in struggle by workers and farmers null and void, no matter how desperately the head of the Justice Department wants to strip them away. Instead, they will continue to bump into a wall of resistance and the relationship of class forces in their efforts to erode civil liberties.

In implementing the latest changes in FBI regulations, government officials will likely be careful at first and target those they deem most vulnerable, such as immigrants from the Middle East. By going after a small section of the working class they hope to inure the population to regular intrusions on privacy and First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

The moves by the Justice Department go hand in hand with other steps, such as the attempt in the Big Apple to enroll landlords and real estate executives into snooping operations at apartment buildings to spot "terrorist tenants." With 40 percent of the population of New York City born in another country, the police have an uphill battle in whipping up many people to start turning in "suspicious" characters. But the threat is real and working people will be victimized by the police-landlord operation. More likely than not it will be used by landlords to throw people out in order to hike the rent a little more.

In taking these steps the U.S. rulers are building on the bipartisan assault against working people organized under the Clinton administration. Clinton expanded the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its use of powers exempt from judicial review, expanded "preventive detention" based on "secret evidence," established a "counterintelligence czar," and other steps to erode workers’ rights.

Widening FBI powers is ultimately aimed at all working people who get involved in a course of action to defend their class interests against the employers and their government. As an attorney from the Center for Constitutional Rights posed it, this would be a serious erosion of civil liberties if "every discussion group needed to be concerned that the FBI is listening in on its public discussions or attending its public meetings."

The FBI’s Cointelpro operation was a disruption program carried out in the 1950s and 1960s to hold back the gains won under the impact of tens of thousands getting involved in the Black-led fight for civil rights. The use of informers, agent provocateurs, wiretapping, burglarizing of offices,, and the blacklisting and firing of individuals from jobs were all part of the dirty tricks used by government agents against participants in the struggle for Black rights, the movement against the Vietnam War, and other organizations opposed to U.S. government policies.

The exposure of the disruption and the extent of government spying and its class character was a gain for the working class. The ability of the cops to openly try to intimidate, threaten, and get people fired was pushed back. This strengthened the ability of the unions and other organizations to keep the government out of their affairs.

The rulers did win support among liberals who seek greater state and police intervention in the name of "security." Those who champion workers’ right should not be surprised by this, however. It was also liberal defenders of U.S. imperialism who were the architects and engineers who built the international machinery of spying and counterrevolution that became the CIA. The liberals always want reforms--some that extend, some that restrict democratic rights--in order to preserve capitalism. For working people there is no security under capitalism. This is true from the economic crisis of the capitalist system to the harsher measures the rulers will use to defend and try to salvage their system in face of rising struggles of workers and farmers.
Related article:
Justice Department announces new FBI powers
‘Washington’s 50-year domestic contra operation’

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