This gets complicated. According to - City Pages (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Moles Wanted, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is recruiting people to infiltrate anti-GOP protest groups in the run-up to the upcoming Republican convention.
The law is clear that police may attend public meetings undercover to see what people are up to. And of course undercover operations in private settings are also legal, although there should be guidelines as to when they are appropriate. And of course it’s good citizenship for private citizens to report crimes when they witness them.
But this story raises a number of serious questions.
First, there’s this: the FBI told the potential informant that he “would be compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest. No exact dollar figure was offered.”
In other words, the FBI is recruiting unpaid volunteers to become infiltrators. And they get paid only if they give information leading to an arrest. Which creates a serious incentive for agents provocateurs. This is not a sensible policy at all. It is in fact a very bad idea.
Second, there’s the weird description of the targets — “vegan potlucks” — and the general sense of massive overkill, which contributes to the chilling effect discussed in the article.
I also wonder whether a similar effort is underway for the Democratic convention (not that two wrongs make a right). If it is not, would that be because of a political bias in the FBI, or a considered judgment that McCain is more likely to be a target of violence than the first Black (or female) major-party Presidential candidate?
Now, maybe the vegans we've got here in Michigan are dramatically different from those infesting Minnesota. But where I'm from, vegans tend to be fairly peaceful people. If they're unwilling to steal a bee's honey, I figure, they're going to be unwilling to use force to make their point. So I'm really curious how this operation got beyond the "mere speculation that force or violence might occur" that the US Attorney's own guidelines demands. And if you're really intent on infiltrating groups of vegans in anticipation of a bunch of violence-loving Republicans coming to town, why use the JTTF? Last I heard, we were so threatened by terrorists that we had to give up all our phone data to AT&T. But now we've got time to infiltrate vegans.