Civil Liberties

Is the FBI Snooping on Political Groups and Ideological Publications? 

They have a long history of spying on dissident political groups, from early 20th century socialists and mid-century civil rights leaders to modern environmentalists and Black Lives Matter.


The Cato Institute is calling on Congress to investigate whether the FBI is spying on it and other domestic political groups, after public records requests raised the possibility that the Bureau has files on Cato and others.

Patrick Eddington, a research fellow at Cato, has submitted more than 200 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for FBI files on political advocacy groups, civil liberties organizations, think tanks, and publications across the political spectrum. For about two dozen of those requests so far, the FBI said it could neither confirm nor deny whether it had collected national security or foreign intelligence records. Those organizations include the Campaign for Liberty started by former Rep. Ron Paul (R–Texas); a grassroots privacy-rights group called Restore the Fourth; the Cato Institute; and Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this magazine

The well-worn "can neither confirm nor deny" phrase is known as a "Glomar response." The term originated in a 1975 FOIA lawsuit by a Rolling Stone journalist seeking CIA records on the Glomar Explorer, a salvage ship the spy agency used in an attempt to recover a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine. A federal judge ruled that the CIA could refuse to acknowledge the existence of such records if doing so would in and of itself compromise national security. The Glomar doctrine has since spread to other federal agencies and trickled down to state and local government entities as well.

The responses Eddington received don't prove that the FBI has collected intelligence on the above groups, but Eddington says that in the 45 years since the original court decision, he's not aware of a national security case where a Glomar response was defeated in court and revealed no government activity. "We know for a fact that Glomar invocations have been used to conceal actual, ongoing activities," explains Eddington, a former CIA analyst, "and we also know that they're not passing out Glomars like candy."

The FBI, which declined to comment for this story, has a long history of spying on dissident political groups, from early 20th century socialists and mid-century civil rights leaders to modern environmentalists and members of Black Lives Matter.

For Eddington, any such surveillance is inimical to freedom of speech. "Any time [the FBI] is engaged in gathering that kind of data on news organizations or on domestic groups that are exercising their First Amendment rights, that activity should be expressly prohibited in the absence of a genuine criminal predicate," he says.

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  1. Yes, next question.

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  2. Yet another reason the FBI needs to be defunded to a point just short of dismantlement.

    1. The FBI needs to return to investigating actual criminal acts such as bank robberies and kidnapping everything else is just spying and spying is done for the political purpose to suppress those you disagree with

      1. The FBI, CIA and NSA are all agencies that have gotten way out of control, abusing their charter. FBI is not only spies on politically active Americans it is used internationally which is illegal and not in their charter. CIA has morphed into a secret global army, a globe trotting secret hit squad for corporate America. They are chartered to only collect information, not go around assassinating people without due process no less. The NSA has the former KGB green with envy. They spy on every US citizen at all times. Listen to your phone, read your email, see what you buy, who you eat dinner with, what books your read. All unconstitutional, the problem is the justice department is not willing to hold up the laws of the constitution. To the DOJ, it’s just an old piece of paper for the rest of the chumps to idolize. The DOJ wipes their arse with it almost daily.

      2. Go read up on the antics of J. Edgar Hoover (first director of the FBI). The FBI has been doing this shit from the very beginning.

  3. It’s pretty much universally known that “can neither confirm nor deny” means, “of course we’re doing [whatever was asked].

    It’s like when an individual is asked about wrongdoing and says, “no comment.”

  4. Of course not, we all know the FBI doesn’t spy on anybody, they just keep a pro-actively watchful eye on them. You know, in case they have to take some pre-emptive defensive actions against anybody. It’s all in the procedures manual. Which is classified, so they can’t show it to you.

    1. It’s ok. If you’ve done nothing wrong then you have nothing to hide. Reason and Cato have urged limiting government power. They’ve even been skeptical of unlimited police powers. They certainly have done something wrong.

      We’ve got to do this… for the children.

      1. Actually, it is more like “to the children”.
        Once my generation stops sucking social security dry, no one will remember living in a free country.

      2. Yes. And as I’ve said many times before, if you’ve have nothing to hide, you probably have nothing to show.

      3. Reason and Cato have urged limiting government power. They’ve even been skeptical of unlimited police powers.

        Was that while they were advocating for removing Trump from office on a non-existent attempted process crime, or when they were advocating for spying on his campaign and administration for 3 years based on a secret warranted granted by a star chamber based on a fake oppo dossier paid for by Hillary Clinton?

      4. I’m OK with it as long as the politicians allow us to see what they are doing, who is giving them money, whom they hang with and how they all have become millionaires. If they have done nothing wrong, why worry. As Jesse Ventura has said, politicians should have sponsor stickers on their suits like the race car drivers, so we know who is paying for their ride and whom they are beholden to.

      5. Shackford literally wrote that investigations are a good thing because they can exonerate you. “Urged limiting government power” my ass.

  5. A FOIA request in the late 1980s revealed that the FBI had an informant on the Libertarian National Committee. Wonder how many agents died of boredom reading the minutes of LNC meetings?

    1. Wonder how many agents died of boredom reading the minutes of LNC meetings?

      Actually they might have found that funny as hell. “Hey, get a load of this: these kooks actually believe in this ‘freedom’ crap! That’s hilarious!”

      And if any did die of boredom, then those agents are Big Damn Heroes and should be looked up to with reverence. /sarc

    2. Hell, last election’s VP candidate may as well have been an FBI informant.

  6. “Is the FBI Snooping on Political Groups and Ideological Publications?”

    What kind of dumbass question is that? Of course they are. They’ve done it for decades.

  7. The FBI has routinely ignored the 4th amendment ever since Hoover was prancing around in his pinafores. They will never change, they will never come around to respecting their oaths. They should be defunded, and all of them barred from ever working in any law enforcement organization in this country.


  8. Of course the don’t spy on the political groups. They contract that kind of thing out.

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  10. Libertarians are lucky Janet Reno didn’t send in the tanks.

    1. First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
      Because I was not a socialist.

      Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a trade unionist.

      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

      Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

      Lunatics run governments, and they care for no one.

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  13. Is that headline a rhetorical question? Because it can’t be serious. Of course the FBI are not just snooping on but infiltrating political groups.

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