The Justice Department's internal watchdog has found no evidence to support claims the FBI used terrorism investigations to intimidate political protesters at the 2004 Democratic and Republican conventions.
In particular, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said FBI agents and prosecutors were pursuing a credible threat of violence at the Democratic National Convention in Boston when they subpoenaed three people to testify in front of a federal grand jury while the convention was being held.
"We concluded that the FBI's interviews of potential convention protesters and its related investigative activities were initiated and conducted for legitimate law enforcement purposes," Fine wrote in a 37-page report that was spurred by news articles and complaints from civil liberties groups. Fine's reports often are critical of the bureau.
ACLU complained about tactics
The American Civil Liberties Union has complained that the FBI tried to intimidate political protesters by claiming to be investigating domestic terror threats.
Sued by the ACLU and other rights groups, the FBI has acknowledged that it has thousands of pages of records in its files relating to the monitoring of civil rights, environmental and similar advocacy groups. The bureau has denied violating free speech rights.
Ann Beeson, the ACLU's associate legal counsel, said the report confirms that FBI agents pressured protesters to stay away from the conventions. "We still think that was inappropriate and had a chilling effect on legitimate protesters who were planning to attend the event," Beeson said. "Many people who got caught up in this net had no intention of committing any violent acts."
FBI Assistant Director John Miller said the report shows the FBI succeeded in "preventing potential violence without causing intimidation or limiting political rights or peaceful protests."
17 threats investigated
Leading up the 2004 political conventions, the FBI investigated 17 threats of violence, of which six appeared most serious, Fine said.
Of those, the threat involving the three people who received subpoenas led FBI agents to 33 people in three states, 17 of whom refused to answer agents' questions, Fine said.
The three, who were under FBI surveillance and identified as targets of the investigation, appeared before the grand jury in an unidentified city on July 29, 2004, the convention's final day and invoked their constitutional right against self-incrimination, Fine said.
They did not travel to Boston.
The events appear to describe what happened to three activists from the northeast Missouri town of Kirksville. They abandoned their plans to protest at the convention because of the subpoenas, the ACLU has said.
Fine also found nothing improper in the use of so-called pretext interviews carried out by FBI agents, although he acknowledged the term has a pejorative connotation and "understandably generated concern about whether the FBI had impermissibly violated First Amendment rights."