A report released today found no evidence that FBI spying on left-leaning groups like PETA in the early 2000s was politically-motivated. But it did include this sad story of one hapless rookie FBI agent.
Remember the big uproar in 2006 over revelations that the FBI had been spying on left-leaning activist groups like PETA and anti-war protestors? Some said it was a coordinated attack on George W. Bush's political opponents. But in a report released today, the Justice Department says that the FBI acted properly and was "motivated by concerns that members of the group might commit crimes and was not spying on them because of their political views," according to the New York Times.
So, that's the good news. The bad news is that FBI agents are incompetent buffoons. Here's one story detailed in the report of an agent's inept surveillance of harmless anti-war protestors:
It was November 29, 2002, the height of the War on Terror. Agent Mark Berry (pseudonym) was assigned to the Pittsburgh Division of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. Berry had graduated from the FBI Academy just four months ago and was eager to impress his boss, "Susan Crosetti". So when work was slow, he'd ask her to send him out into the field. Today, Crosetti suggested he go downtown and scope out an anti-war protest.
The assignment was clearly make work; Crosetti wanted to get Berry out of her hair by letting him play spy for the day. She gave him a very broad task: to identify any of the Task Force's terrorism suspects at the rally and to "see what they were doing." But there wasn't evidence that any particular terrorism suspect would be at the rally, only a very tenuous connection between the rally's organizers and a local Islamic center where a few suspects hung out. So, Berry went to the big binder where they kept color photographs of suspects and attempted to memorize every single one:
Berry said he attempted to memorize the faces depicted in the binder of photographs but he was "totally unfamiliar" with the subjects' faces because he was a new agent.
When Berry went down to the rally he started to look for bad guys in the crowd. Except, "he could not recall the faces he had attempted to remember from the binder." Nor had he brought any photographs with him for reference. So he spied on a random woman (who happened to look Middle Eastern.)
He decided he would take a couple of photographs of a woman who was in attendance. He said he did so because he believed he needed to show his supervisor that he was "earning his pay" and was doing what he was told. Berry said he did not know whether the woman he photographed was a terrorism subject.
Undercover surveillance—just like a real FBI Agent! It was interrupted, though, when the woman Berry was spying on approached him for some chit-chat. We'll let the report Berry filed about this encounter speak for itself:
One female leaflet distributor, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, inquired if Special Agent Berry was an FBI Agent.
Berry left after about 10 minutes, concluding that "it was a 'nonstarter' given that he could not 'even remember what [the subjects] look[ed] like.'"
Special Agent Clouseau? Is that you? Almost makes you wish there was some sort of Bush conspiracy to spy on antiwar protestors.