Eric Garris, co-founder and editor of Antiwar.com, says he filed a request this week demanding the FBI fix a fraudulent story in his file that says he once threatened to hack the FBI’s website.
That there is an FBI file on Garris dating back to the 1970’s should be cause enough for alarm. He has been charged with no crime, and is suspected of no criminal nor domestic terrorist activity. But thanks to recently released documents (the result of a lawsuit launched last spring by Antiwar.com and its attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California), we know that the FBI has been monitoring Garris, his co-founder Justin Raimondo, and other staffers of the website (full disclosure: I am a columnist for Antiwar.com) for several years.
And here’s the punch line: it turns out that the agency has been spying on Antiwar.com as a potential “threat to national security,” because, in part, Garris once asked the FBI for help.
Internal, un-redacted documents obtained in October by Antiwar.com show that in 2001, Garris passed along a threat he received on Sept. 12, 2001 from a Antiwar.com reader obviously disgruntled with the website’s coverage of 9/11. The subject line read, “YOUR SITE IS GOING DOWN,” and proceeded with this missive: “Be warned assholes, ill be posting your site address to all the hack boards tonight … your site is history.”
Concerned, Garris forwarded the email to the FBI field office in San Francisco, where he is based. Garris heard nothing, but by January 2002, it turned up again, completely twisted around, in a secret FBI memo entitled, “A THREAT BY GARRIS TO HACK FBI WEBSITE.”
It turns out this “threat” went on to justify, at least in part, the FBI’s ongoing interest in monitoring the website, as a potential “threat to national security on behalf of a foreign power,” beginning in 2004. TAC reported on the secret surveillance in July after Antiwar.com, along with the ACLU, launched their suit for full disclosure of all FBI records pertaining to Garris and co-founder Justin Raimondo.
Up until that point, all the two men had to go on was a heavily redacted, 94-page FBI memo passed along by a intrepid reader in 2011. The file is illuminating, to say the least. It shows the FBI secretly taking stock of what Raimondo had published on the site, particularly on the issue of the arrest of five Israeli nationals who were ostensibly celebrating and taking photography of the burning World Trade towers in 9/11. Raimondo wrote about their arrests and release in 2002, and linked to versions of at least two government watch-lists already published on the Web by others.
His reporting of this alleged Israeli spy angle to the 9/11 story was handed out by peace activists in UK, and an alleged neo-Nazi group here in the U.S., according to the FBI. These examples, and the fact that an unnamed FBI suspect had supposedly browsed Antiwar.com, “among many other websites,” and that “many individuals worldwide” view the site, “including individuals who are currently under investigation,” were all noted in the 2004 memo.
The agents authoring the memo also questioned Antiwar.com’s funding, and pointed to the website’s criticism of U.S. war policy. All of this apparently led them to conclude that further surveillance of Antiwar.com was warranted, “to determine if [redaction] are engaging in, or have engaged in, activities which constitute a threat to national security on behalf of a foreign power.”
The newly acquired documents flesh out much of the missing or redacted material from the 2004 memo. Now Garris and his ACLU attorney, Julia Mass, have a better idea about the FBI’s interest in the website. Not only was Garris’ “threat” revealed in the un-redacted portions of the file they received in October, but so was an accounting of Garris’ participation in a 1972 war protest.
Garris insists the FBI’s depiction of him as “threat” does not bother him as much as the fact that it’s quite clear Antiwar.com has been targeted solely for its First Amendment protected activities. There was never a suggestion that Raimondo or Garris committed any crime. But it was hinted that their (free) speech was a threat nonetheless.
Mass tells TAC that when the story broke in The Guardian last week, reporters honed in on the “sloppiness” angle regarding the agent who wrote the first mangled account of Garris’s “threat” and the agents who decided to run with the “mistake” years later.
“It seems a little more purposeful than that,” she said, noting that there was never any attempt to investigate the so-called threat. Yet it was used by other agents in 2004 as a justification to monitor Garris and Raimondo (the San Francisco office eventually declined requests by the Newark, N.J. office for an official investigation into the website, according to the memos).
“The obviousness of the original mistake really causes you to question whether the 2004 memo’s reliance on it was also an honest mistake,” she told TAC. “And if it is not an honest mistake, then it really makes it look like an intentional targeting of Justin and Antiwar because of their speech and their critique of the government’s actions.”
When contacted by The Guardian, the FBI said it would not comment due to the ongoing litigation. Mass said that if the FBI does not move to fix the file, they will be bringing their demands back to the court.