FBI Response to Media Misinterpretation of its Law Enforcement Sensitive Intelligence Bulletin, dated 10/15/2003.

A November 23rd article in the New York Times raised grave issues about information sent by the FBI in its sensitive weekly information-sharing bulletin to the U.S. law enforcement community.

Accordingly, we are taking the unusual step of posting for public scrutiny both the FBI’s response to the Executive Editor of the New York Times about these issues and also the full text of the Bulletin itself, as follows.


Letter to the Executive Editor of the New York Times:

In his November 23, 2003, article “FBI Scrutinizes Antiwar Rallies,” Eric Lichtblau cites a recent FBI intelligence bulletin as evidence that the FBI has begun to target antiwar protesters and to gather intelligence on peaceful demonstrators in a coordinated, nationwide initiative. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we feel it is important to set the record straight.

Mr. Lichtblau acknowledges at one point that the FBI has focused on "identifying anarchists and 'extremist elements' plotting violence, not at monitoring political speech of law-abiding protesters," but then creates several misimpressions about the true nature of the FBI's efforts.

First, nowhere in the bulletin cited in Mr. Lichtblau’s article does it suggest that the FBI is conducting “a coordinated, nationwide effort to collect intelligence regarding demonstrations.” The bulletin is not focused on political protesters or others who exercise their first amendment rights to protest the policies of the government, but simply cites the fact that anarchists and others have used violent tactics to disrupt otherwise peaceful demonstrations. The bulletin then discusses the tactics that state and local law enforcement departments may encounter when policing large marches and rallies. The bulletin does not suggest that state and local law enforcement should collect information on peaceful demonstrators.

Second, Mr. Lichtblau incorrectly implies that the issuance of new Attorney General Guidelines that permit agents to attend political rallies and other events that are open to the public has resulted in improper domestic intelligence gathering. The Attorney General Guidelines permit agents to attend such rallies only "[f]or the purpose of detecting or preventing terrorist activities," and explicitly prohibit "maintaining files on individuals solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment." We scrupulously follow those limitations, and we do not investigate or maintain dossiers on persons because of their "political activities."

Finally, the last paragraph of the article is wrong to suggest that the FBI is targeting "civil disobedience." Civil disobedience did not cause millions of dollars in damage from fires set during the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. Nor was it civil disobedience to prepare molotov cocktails in preparation for an IMF meeting in Washington, D.C. Those activities, and not the peaceful expression of political dissent, are the focus of our efforts.

The FBI is committed to protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans, including those who oppose current policies of the government. In order to do so, we must make law enforcement aware of the tactics of those who wish to impinge on those rights by violently disrupting otherwise peaceful marches and assemblies. The bulletin described in Mr. Lichtblau's article was intended to do just that.

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Full Text of the FBI Intelligence Bulletin #89, 10/15/2003:



HANDLING NOTICE: Recipients are reminded that the Intelligence Bulletin is designated "Law Enforcement Sensitive," and should not be disseminated beyond law enforcement circles.


On October 25, 2003, mass marches and rallies against the occupation in Iraq are scheduled to occur in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, California. While the FBI possesses no information indicating that violent or terrorist activities are being planned as part of these protests, the possibility exists that elements of the activist community may attempt to engage in violent, destructive, or disruptive acts. Most protests are peaceful events; however, a number of demonstrations, including the biannual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings, are more likely to be violent and disruptive and to require enhanced law enforcement security. Several effective and innovative strategies are commonly used by protestors prior to, during, and after demonstrations. The following tactics have been observed by U.S. and foreign law enforcement agencies while responding to criminal activities conducted during protests and demonstrations.

Protestors often use the internet to recruit, raise funds, and coordinate their activities prior to demonstrations. Activists may also make use of training camps to rehearse tactics and counter-strategies for dealing with the police and to resolve any logistical issues.

If a demonstration is going to take place in a secure facility, activists may seek to gain access to the site using false documentation. Surveillance of sites prior to demonstrations can allow activists to identify locations of command posts and law enforcement personnel in order to plan effective countermeasures.

Traditional demonstration tactics by which protestors draw attention to their causes include marches, banners, and forms of passive resistance such as sit-ins. Extremist elements may engage in more aggressive tactics that can include vandalism, physical harassment of delegates, trespassing, the formation of human chains or shields, makeshift barricades, devices used against mounted police units, and the use of weapons–such as projectiles and homemade bombs. Even the more peaceful techniques can create a climate of disorder, block access to a site, draw large numbers of police officers to a specific location in order to weaken security at other locations, obstruct traffic, and possibly intimidate people from attending the events being protested.

During the course of a demonstration, activists often communicate with one another using cell phones or radios to coordinate activities or to update colleagues about ongoing events. Other types of media equipment (video cameras, photographic equipment, audio tape recorders, microphones, and computer and radio equipment) may be used for documenting potential cases of police brutality and for distribution of information over the internet.

Extremists may be prepared to defend themselves against law enforcement officials during the course of a demonstration. Masks (gas masks, goggles, scarves, scuba masks, filter masks, and sunglasses) can serve to minimize the effects of tear gas and pepper spray as well as obscure one's identity. Extremists may also employ shields (trash can lids, sheets of plexiglass, truck tire inner tubes, etc.) and body protection equipment (layered clothing, hard hats and helmets, sporting equipment, life jackets, etc.) to protect themselves during marches. Activists may also use intimidation techniques such as videotaping and the swarming of police officers to hinder the arrest of other demonstrators.

After demonstrations, activists are usually reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement officials. They seldom carry any identification papers and often refuse to divulge any information about themselves or other protestors. Post-demonstration activities can include fundraising in support of the legal defense of accused protestors and demonstrations of solidarity calling for the release of the accused.

Law enforcement agencies should be alert to these possible indicators of protest activity and report any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.


Information contained in the FBI Intelligence Bulletin is Law Enforcement Sensitive and intended for official use only. No portion of this Bulletin should be released to the media, the general public or over non-secure Internet servers. Release of Law Enforcement Sensitive material could adversely affect or jeopardize investigative activities.

Departments are requested to contact the nearest FBI field office or resident agency in their area should additional information be developed related to the above matter. Questions regarding the content of these Bulletins should also be directed to the nearest FBI field office or resident agency.

Source: FBI