Cops Chase Terrorists, Catch Poker Players


Writing in the Seattle Stranger, Brendan Kiley tells the tale of a "counterterrorism" operation in which loads of public money and two years of surveillance allowed FBI and Seattle PD investigators to nab (a) four poker players, (b) some unrelated drug dealers, and (c) an activist pressured by an undercover cop into showing up at a drug deal. Sadly, as Kiley notes, the case isn't as unusual as it might sound:

The FBI, [Will] Potter says, has been playing this make-believe game with "domestic terrorists" off and on since 9/11, even though it has been directly criticized for it by the US Department of Justice.

The DOJ's 95-page audit report from 2003 opens and closes with the inspector general basically saying that the FBI has been doing a crappy job of protecting American citizens from terrorism because it's not good at sharing information with other agencies, and it's been too busy busting the likes of vegans, hippies, artists, anarchists, and other low-risk dissident American subcultures.

From page 63 of the DOJ report: "Frequently, the information being shared on terrorism could be described as background; often the subject of the FBI's communications is not the high risk of radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorism but social protests or the criminal activities of environmental or animal activists."

On the 11th page of the report's introduction, the DOJ suggests that the FBI concentrate on "actionable information on the high risk of international terrorism and any domestic terrorist activities aimed at creating mass casualties or destroying critical infrastructure, rather than information on social protests and domestic radicals' criminal activities."

In other words, the DOJ is telling the FBI to stop wasting its time with the vegans, the hippies, and the anarchists. They're fine—people are allowed to be weird in America. Those people aren't a threat, anyway. The FBI should spend its time looking for murder-minded international terrorists instead.

Along with the abuses to our civil liberties, there's a fiscal angle:

Here's a little more math about the public resources that this investigation sucked up. According to documents acquired by The Stranger, during May and June of 2008, [undercover agent] Bryan [Van Brunt] showed up to play cards at [activist/target] Rick [Wilson]'s apartment eight times. For those eight card games (i.e., eight police shifts for Bryan), the investigation paid for 112 shifts by supporting officers: 9 officers one night, 5 officers another night, 11 officers another night, etc. One night, an FBI agent came out. Another night, a SWAT team was there. And that's just in a two-month window.

Read the whole thing.

[Via our beloved commenters.]