(FinalCall.com) – Former FBI agent Mike German was a counter terrorism expert and even authored a book titled “Thinking Like a Terrorist,” but he became frustrated with the ineffective and intrusive tactics of the agency and eventually left the force. Mr. German currently works as policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office. In an interview with Final Call staff writer Charlene Muhammad, Mr. German discussed new guidelines that make it easier for FBI agents to open investigations–using race and ethnicity as factors–even when there is no indication of criminality.
Final Call (FC): After 9/11, we saw more restrictions in the law across the board. What is the difference between the changes to the law at the advent of the war on terror, post 9/11 and currently?
Mike German (MG): The Attorney General Guidelines, which regulate the FBI’s investigative authorities–and as each attorney general came in they would modify the guidelines and make them their own–have slowly eroded over the years. The guidelines I operated under as an FBI agent, I feel, were protective of the people’s civil rights because they did compel the FBI to only open investigations when they had a reasonable belief illegal activity had occurred or was going to occur. After 9/11 when John Ashcroft was the attorney general, he, in 2003, issued new guidelines which vastly expanded the types of investigations the FBI could conduct, opening the door to engaging in investigations of protest organizations.
It’s really frustrating for me as a former law enforcement officer because the reason law enforcement moved away from racial profiling wasn’t just that it had a negative impact on the community, but it wasted resources. Police officers (were) regarding race as a factor when, in fact, it’s not.
FC: Are we at that police state that many feared would come; and where is the end to this?
MG: These two programs in combination certainly bring us much closer to the police state where a law abiding person, bothering nobody and engaging in nothing that is not protected by the First Amendment, could all of a sudden be stopped by a police officer, perhaps handcuffed and put in the back of a car, have their information taken and reported not to just the police department but to the FBI and intelligence community to be data-mined, using who knows what profiling techniques to spit out people that they assume are bad based on no factual evidence.
FC: The government says it is winning the war on terror. If that’s the case, then what is driving these policies that are putting a tighter squeeze on American citizens?
MG: It’s about total information awareness, a program that was started shortly after 9/11 by the Department of Defense. It’s this idea that if the government is able to gather all the data out there from every source, it will somehow be smarter and knows more about what’s going on. When that program came to light, the public and Congress said that’s not the type of country we want to live in and closed the program. But the program never ended, it just started taking root in different programs that are all united together into one. This is just part of that program–the National Security Letters, the warrantless wiretapping, seizures of data when people cross the border, all sorts of elements.
FC: What have been some other results?
MG: Despite being given all these powers by Congress and other post-9/11 legislation, prosecutions have been dropping every year. So the effectiveness of these programs doesn’t seem to bear any evidence. Congress really needs to take a look at this because if they’re spending all their time collecting information about innocent people, then it doesn’t help them catch guilty people. They acknowledge they don’t have very good security and these databases are being breached all the time, not just by hostile governments or terrorist groups but by insiders. And there have been a number of cases where they (FBI) have improperly used data they obtained.
FC: What does this mean for Blacks, people of color, oppressed and poverty-stricken people?
MG: The impact of this program is going to be felt by minority and immigrant communities. Even in just a general crimes category, it’s such a counterproductive thing to do–alienate the very communities that the law enforcement agencies are there to serve–but in a terrorism context, it’s even more counterproductive. Terrorism is generated by a perception of injustice being done to (a particular group of people). If the government engages in programs that are specifically focusing on certain racial, ethnic or religious groups, that animosity is going to start to build. You’re actually creating that fertile ground that terrorist movements are born from. It’s counterproductive and patently illegal.
FC: Thank you.
FBI COINTELPRO Exposed (NOI.org)