April 05, 2020

FBI releases e-mail from surveillance of activists

PORTLAND – The FBI has turned over e-mails it obtained from members of two Maine peace organizations containing information about demonstrations at the Brunswick Naval Air Station and Bath Iron Works, the Maine Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

The e-mails were turned over in response to a Freedom of Information request that the MCLU filed last year.

Obtaining the e-mails of Peace Action Maine and Veterans for Peace is a waste of FBI resources, and it has a chilling effect on people who want to speak out against government policies, said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the MCLU.

It also brings to mind the FBI’s clandestine surveillance in decades past of Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon and civil rights organizations, she said.

“History seems to be repeating itself,” she said at a press conference at the Peace and Justice Center.

An FBI spokeswoman said the agency gets its information from a myriad of sources, including concerned citizens who send along correspondence they’ve obtained.

But it is incorrect to suggest that the FBI was spying on the Maine peace groups or intercepting their e-mails electronically, said Nenette Day of the Boston FBI office.

Day did not know exactly how the FBI came into possession of the e-mails, but said a federal court order would be required to obtain them electronically. The FBI would request such a court order only if it had evidence that a crime or an act of violence was going to be committed, or that national security was being compromised, she said.

“We do not investigate individuals engaged in their constitutional rights, including the right to free speech and assembly,” Day said.

The MCLU filed a Freedom of Information request last year on behalf of Peace Action Maine, Veterans for Peace, five other organizations and 15 individuals.

In January, the FBI confirmed that it possessed some e-mails from the Maine Coalition for Peace and Justice, the MCLU said.

Late last month, the MCLU received copies of e-mails the FBI had obtained from Peace Action Maine, Veterans for Peace and two individuals connected to peace groups. The e-mail messages were redacted so they didn’t contain names or information considered to be classified.

The e-mails discussed plans for a demonstration of the Blue Angels air show at Brunswick Naval Air Station on Sept. 10, 2005, and about a protest at the christening of a Navy destroyer at Bath Iron Works on July 23, 2005.

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