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Spooky stuff
By invitation, the FBI and the NYPD set up shop in Sydney

By Lawrence Gibbons*
1 May 2006

Late last year, with little fanfare and even less public scrutiny, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a local office here in Sydney. Located in the US consulate way up high in the MLC in Martin Place, an FBI agent will provide back up assistance and training to Australia’s Federal and State police. Founded in 1924 under the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI assembled dossiers against most prominent political and public figures. During the anti-communist 50’s Hoover amassed unparalleled political power and by the 60’s Hoover personally attempted to discredit Martin Luther King, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. In the 1970’s the Nixon White House (foreshadowing the actions of the current Republican administration) granted itself the power to wiretap phones without judicial oversight, leading to the scandalous break-in of the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate apartment complex. In 1976 the Senate Church Committee issued a scathing report after reviewing the FBI’s conduct, finding that the FBI had “adopt(ed) tactics unworthy of a democracy and occasionally reminiscent of a totalitarian regime.” Following the Church Committee’s recommendations, the FBI’s powers were limited to domestic police enforcement for over 25 years, until George Bush the Lesser once again redirected the FBI to spy on US citizens whether or not they had actually broken the law and to expand the agency’s international espionage role. In welcoming the FBI to New South Wales, State Premier Morris Iemma declared, “our officers…(will) reap the benefits of their knowledge and experience.” Indeed.

Two months after Iemma quietly announced the FBI would assist local authorities in fighting global terrorism here in Sydney, the New York Times reported: “Counter terrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief newly released agency records show.” The admission came in the wake of recent White House confirmation that President Bush authorised the use of espionage tactics without warrants. In response to a Freedom of Information request from the American Civil Liberties Union, the FBI revealed it had spied on PETA, Greeenpeace and the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee. Speaking to the New York Times, Ann Beecroft, the associate legal director of the ACLU commented, “You look at these documents and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in FBI files that they’re talking about a group like the Catholic Workers as having a communist ideology.” Three months later, in March of this year, the Boston Globe reported that the FBI had also repeatedly spied on a faith-based peace activist group: “Over the last four years the FBI has repeatedly spied on the Thomas Merton Center, a catholic peace organization in Pittsburgh… One 2002 FBI memo defined the center as ‘a left wing organization advocating among other political causes, pacifism’… What drew the bureau’s attention to the Merton Center in 2002 was its members handing out leaflets that opposed the impending war in Iraq.”

The times they aren’t a changing. Here in Australia, the old guard of the Communist Party of Australia has led a campaign in opposition to the FBI opening an office here in Sydney. The party’s 10th Congress recently passed a resolution declaring, “We condemn the NSW Premier Morris Iemma and NSW Police Minister Carl Scully for organising and welcoming the establishment of this office. We state that the FBI is concerned with the suppression of civil rights and particularly the right to dissent in a democratic society. We further contend that foreign police agencies have no role in Australia and particularly ones such as the FBI, with an enormous history of working against their own population. If the FBI is prepared to be so offhand about the rights of US citizens how can we expect them to respect Australian citizens’ rights? The presence of the FBI here is a violation of our sovereignty and of our own legal systems. We call on the Premier to remove his offer to the FBI to set up an office in Sydney.”

Meanwhile, not content to merely unleash the US federal police force on the citizenry of NSW, Scully and Iemma have also invited America’s largest urban police force to Sydney as well. On October 25th the Premier announced that the New York Police Department was also sending a police officer to the NSW Police Counter Terrorism Command. With more officers than the FBI, the NYPD is the largest police force in the United States, if not the world. In exchange NSW will send a police officer to the NYPD and to the Los Angeles Police Department as well. On November 3, New York’s tabloid, “the Sun” reported, “A New York detective from intelligence will be a permanent liaison to the New South Wales Police in Sydney, and in exchange an Australian police officer will be assigned to work stateside…. Based in strategic locations, the overseas operatives can collect and disseminate terrorism-related information to the Police Department with greater speed (New York’s Police Commissioner Raymond) Kelly said. He can find out about terror threats without worrying about layers of bureaucracy.” Indeed. Not to be outdone by its federal counterpart, the NYPD is also seeking the power to spy on innocent people following 9/11. According to New York’s Village Voice, “…(The NYPD) proposed a set of internal guidelines for spying on New Yorkers who are not suspected of breaking the law.” Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union warned the Voice of a “return to the bad old days of police dossiers on law-abiding critics of the government, infiltration and disruption of lawful political activities and organizations and intimidation of punishment of dissent.”

The NYPD should feel right at home here in Australia. In January of this year, the NSW Civil Liberties Union released figures showing that “Australia issues 75% more telecommunications interception warrants than the US, but per capita Australia issues 26 times more warrants than the US.” While most wiretaps in America are officially approved by a judge (or occasionally by a rogue President) in Australia, 76 per centof all wiretaps are approved by members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and not by a judge. According to Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Civil Liberties Union, “AAT members do not have tenure, are appointed by the government and work on contract. This means that AAT members are more likely to do the government’s bidding than a judge, which explains why most warrants are issued by non-judges.” Several months after the Civil Liberties Union advised Australians that big brother could indeed be listening to their every utterance, the Federal Parliament quietly adopted legislation allowing spies, police and other agencies to monitor third parties suspected of communicating with “terrorists”. In response to the law’s passage in March of this year, the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance issued a terse statement: “New laws passed by the Senate yesterday give law enforcement agencies power to intercept phone calls, emails and text messages of innocent people. This extreme surveillance law poses a serious threat to press freedom – journalists can assume their conversations with sources can be intercepted at any time.” What more can you say really?

*Lawrence Gibbons is the editor and publisher of the Sydney City Hub
This article originally appeared in the Sydney City Hub, May 2006.
© Lawrence Gibbons 2006