COINTELPRO & Indymedia


Richard Moore

If you follow the URL, you can find a series of comments posted 
by readers.

Our use of the Internet is highly vulnerable, there are many 
ways it could be taken away from us.  I hope the movement 
develops other means of communication before that happens,


Gag Order Lifted; IMC in Free Speech Battle Following
FBI/Secret Service Visit

by JL for the Seattle IMC Spokescouncil 9:49am Fri Apr 27 '01 

This is an official announcement from the Seattle IMC
Spokescouncil On the evening of Saturday, April 21, a day
which saw tens of thousands demonstrate against the FTAA in
the streets of Quebec City, the Independent Media Center in
Seattle was served with a sealed court order by two FBI
agents and an agent of the US Secret Service. The terms of
the sealed order prevented IMC volunteers from publicizing
its contents; volunteers immediately began discussions with
legal counsel to amend the order. This morning, April 27,
Magistrate Judge Monica Benton issued an amended order,
freeing us to discuss the situation without the threat of
being held in contempt.

The original order, also issued by Judge Benton, directed
the IMC to supply the FBI with "all user connection logs"
for April 20 and 21st from a web server occupying an IP
address which the Secret Service believed belonged to the
IMC. The order stated that this was part of an "ongoing
criminal investigation" into acts that could constitute
violations of Canadian law, specifically theft and mischief.
IMC legal counsel David Sobel, of the Electronic Privacy
Information Center, comments: "As the U.S. Supreme Court has
recognized, the First Amendment protects the right to
communicate anonymously with the press and for political
purposes. An order compelling the disclosure of information
identifying an indiscriminately large number of users of a
website devoted to political discourse raises very serious
constitutional issues. To provide the same protection to the
press and anonymous sources in the Internet world as with
more traditional media, the Government must be severely
limited in its ability to demand their Internet
identity--their "Internet Protocol addresses." A federal
statute already requires that such efforts against the press
be approved by the Attorney General, and only where
essential and after alternatives have been exhausted. There
is no suggestion that these standards were met here.

The sealed court order also directed the IMC not to disclose
"the existence of this Application or Order, or the
existence of this investigation, unless or until ordered by
this court." Such a prior restraint on a media organization
goes to the heart of the First Amendment. Ironically, the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer learned about the existence of
the order from "federal sources," suggesting that the
purpose of the gag order was simply to allow the government
to spin the issue its way.

The order did not specify what acts were being investigated,
and the Secret Service agent acknowledged that the IMC
itself was not suspected of criminal activity. No violation
of US law was alleged. It is not clear whether federal law
allows the Attorney General ever to approve such an
investigation of US press entities to facilitate a foreign
investigation. According to IMC counsel Lee Tien of the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, "This kind of fishing
expedition is another in a long line of overbroad and
onerous attempts to chill political speech and activism.
Back in 1956, Alabama tried to force the NAACP to give up
its membership lists -- but the Supreme Court stopped them.
This order to IMC, even without the 'gag,' is a threat to
free speech, free association, and privacy."

Responding to questions from IMC volunteers, the agents
claimed that their investigation concerned the source of
either one or two postings which, they said, had been posted
to an IMC newswire early Saturday morning. These posts,
according to the agents, contained documents stolen from a
Canadian government agency, including classified information
related to the travel itinerary of George W. Bush (who was
at that time in Quebec City, participating in Summit of the
Americas meetings). Agents claimed that the Secret Service
was notified of the existence of such posts by a tip from an
(unnamed) major commercial news network.

The agents were unable to provide URL addresses or titles
for the postings they described. Additionally, the court
order contained a non-working IP address, rather than an
address assigned to any of the IMC sites. IMC volunteers
nevertheless were able to identify two articles posted to
the Montreal IMC which partially matched the agents'
incomplete description. These articles, posted first in
French and then in English translations ( HYPERLINK
"" ,
514 and 515), contain sections of documents purportedly
stolen from a Quebec City police car during Friday night
anti-FTAA demonstrations; the documents detail police
strategies for hindering protesters' mass action. It does
not appear that any materials were posted to any IMC site
containing Bush travel plans.

Although the agents were concerned with only two posts, the
court order demands "all user connections logs" for a
48-hour period, which would include individual IP addresses
for every person who posted materials to or visited the IMC
site during the FTAA protests. IMC legal counsel Nancy
Chang, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, comments
that "the overbroad sweep of the information demanded by the
FBI raises the disturbing question of whether the order is
calculated to discourage association with the IMC."

The agents arrived at the IMC around 7pm. Seattle IMC
volunteers had been busy all afternoon gathering regional
IMC coverage of FTAA protests underway in Seattle and in
Blaine, Washington, and coordinating coverage with other
sites on the IMC network. Several visitors were also in the
IMC at the time, using public computers.. While agents were
speaking with one staff volunteer, another began making
telephone calls in an effort to contact legal counsel. After
the agents left, volunteers discussed the court order's gag
provision, and began recontacting the handful of people who
had already been called, in order to make sure that the
terms of the court order would not be violated before legal
counsel had time to appraise the situation.

Initial attempts were made to contain news of the FBI/Secret
Service visit; however, a few details of the story were soon
leaked via a partially accurate report broadcast on the
Vermont IMC internet radio stream. Soon the Seattle IMC was
flooded with phone calls requesting information about what
quickly began to be described as an "FBI raid," and
speculations began to spread rapidly across the
open-publishing newswires of various IMCs.

For about three hours, a network of IMC technology
volunteers attempted to comply with the court order by
removing such posts from the Seattle IMC and other major IMC
sites as they appeared. This had the unfortunate effect of
seemingly confirming the worst suspicions of independent
journalists who posted brief articles announcing or
speculating about mysterious and terrible things going on at
the Seattle IMC, then finding their posts removed from view
minutes later. Volunteers called off this clumsy attempt at
rumor control around midnight, when it became clear that
removing of posts was only serving to fan the flames of
rumor, and that in any case the story had already spread
beyond the confines of the IMC network. In acting to remove
these posts, IMC volunteers were motivated by fear of
violating the court order's gag provision even before legal
counsel had had a chance to review the document. We regret
the feelings of confusion and disempowerment which many
users of the IMC sites experienced due to Saturday night's
blackout of postings on this topic, and the general
frustration caused by the gag order.

Since the incident occurred, several persistent, yet false,
rumors have taken shape; some of these found their way into
coverage published in Monday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer
and other commercial media. We can now dispel some of the
more common of these: No search warrant was served to the
IMC in connection with the court order, and nobody connected
to the Seattle IMC has been arrested. No equipment or logs
have been seized; the agents' visit was not a "raid."

Now, free from restrictive court orders, the Seattle IMC
will be able to cover this important story as it continues
to unfold.

The Seattle Independent Media Center was launched in Fall
1999 to provide immediate, authentic, grassroots coverage of
protests against the WTO. Just a year and a half later, the
IMC network has reached around the world, with dozens of
sites scattered across six continents. IMCs are autonomously
organized and administered, but share collective
organizational principles and certain technological
resources. Each IMC's news coverage centers upon its
open-publishing newswire, an innovative and democratizing
system allowing anyone with access to an Internet connection
to become a journalist, reporting on events from his or her
own perspective rather than being forced to rely on the
narrow range of views presented by corporate-owned
mainstream media sources.

During last weekend's widespread protests against a proposed
Free Trade Area of the Americas, many IMC sites collaborated
to produce comprehensive coverage of demonstrations taking
place in Quebec City and Sao Paulo, as well as solidarity
protests in cities across the U.S. and along the Mexican and
Canadian borders. The breadth and depth of coverage produced
by the IMC's global network eclipsed that of many corporate
media outlets.

The Seattle IMC remains committed to its mission: "The
Independent Media Center is a grassroots organization
committed to using media production and distribution as a
tool for promoting social and economic justice. It is our
goal to further the self-determination of people
under-represented in media production and content, and to
illuminate and analyze local and global issues that impact
ecosystems, communities and individuals. We seek to generate
alternatives to the biases inherent in the corporate media
controlled by profit, and to identify and create positive
models for a sustainable and equitable society."


Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland

    A community will evolve only when
    the people control their means of communication.
    - Frantz Fanon

    "One cannot separate economics, political science, and
    history. Politics is the control of the economy. History,
    when accurately and fully recorded, is that story. In most
    textbooks and classrooms, not only are these three fields of
    study separated, but they are further compartmentalized into
    separate subfields, obscuring the close interconnections
    between them" -- J.W. Smith, The World's Wasted Wealth 2,
    (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), p. 22.

Permission for non-commercial republishing hereby granted - BUT 
include and observe all restrictions, copyrights, credits,
and notices - including this one.