FBI FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTION ACT -- HON. DON EDWARDS (Extension of Remarks - January 03, 1991)
HON. DON EDWARDS
in the House of Representatives
THURSDAY, JANUARY 3, 1991
- Mr. EDWARDS of California. Mr. Speaker, today the gentleman from Michigan [Mr. Conyers] and I are introducing legislation to establish a principle that should be self-evident: The Federal Bureau of Investigation should not be investigating first amendment activities--taking prictures at demonstrations, surveilling religious services, monitoring conferences--without some direct relevance to the investigation of criminal activity.
- In most of its investigations, the FBI does focus on investigating criminal conduct. In most areas, it opens a case only when it has reason to believe that a crime has been or will be committed. But in the areas of counterintelligence and international terrorism, the FBI recognizes no such limits. It continues to investigate lawful activities of U.S. citizens who have contact with foreign nationals or who peacefully express support for foreign organizations.
- In hearings last Congress, we learned that the FBI had been interviewing Amnesty International members who wrote to the Soviet Embassy in Washington complaining about the treatment of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. In the wake of the CISPES investigation, we learned that the FBI opened cases on individuals because they had attended a lawful meeting or the showing of a film. The GAO reported last year that the FBI had opened thousands of cases on similarly tenuous grounds.
- Without a focus on criminal conduct, it is impossible for the FBI to define the scope and purpose of its own investigations. Not only is there a chilling effect on first amendment freedoms, but there is also a waste of investigative resources that could be used more productively. The CISPES case is a perfect example. The FBI monitored marches, meetings, rallies, conferences, and demonstrations without collecting any evidence of Federal crimes.
- In drafting the bill we are introducing today, we have been careful to ensure that it will not tie the hands of the FBI. Therefore, we have adopted the very standard that the FBI has followed with great success since 1976 in all its investigations of domestic terrorism. Under this criminal standard, the FBI has not been hampered at all. To the contrary, it has been very successful, making important arrests and putting numerous members of terrorist groups in jail. Thus there is proof that the standards in the bill are not onerous.
- The FBI's counterintelligence and international
- terrorism missions are important and will remain so, but elements of its operations in those areas are holdovers from the cold war era. The world has changed greatly and the FBI needs to keep pace. It needs to refocus its efforts to be more effective. The FBI's counterintelligence authority stems from a series of vague executive branch directives dating back before World War II. The standards in those orders need to be clarified, updated, and embodied in legislation. The best way to do so is through the criminal standard, which our bill would establish.
- This legislation will not hinder the FBI from acting to prevent terrorist acts before they occur. Under our bill, if the FBI receives credible information that an individual or group is planning illegal activities, the Bureau could investigate. The bill merely says that the FBI could not investigate citizens merely because they have contact with a foreign national or express political support for the goals of a foreign entity.
- The CISPES case, which the FBI itself admits got out of hand, occurred because the Bureau lacked clear guidelines on how to investigate groups that support international terrorism. Our bill has a simple rule: The FBI can investigate support activities that are criminal in nature.
- Our bill also addresses the question of what to do with the files after a case is closed where the FBI improperly collected information on first amendment activities. The provision ensures that the records may not be circulated inside the Bureau and may not be disseminated outside the Bureau except to requesters under the FOIA and the Privacy Act. Thus, the records will be preserved for historical purposes and will be available to the record subjects, who have a right to know if they were subject to FBI surveillance.
- Americans have a right to express peacefully support for anyone and anything, and they should not have the FBI looking over their shoulder. The FBI is our Nation's premier law enforcement agency. It should focus on what it does best, catching criminals and spies.