Appeals court tells FBI to destroy memo on anti-war website
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The FBI must destroy 15-year-old records of its investigation into the two co-founders of a San Francisco online anti-war website and the site’s activities, a federal appeals court ruled.
The FBI started looking into antiwar.com and its editors in 2004 after the website posted two “watch lists” of people the FBI was investigating after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a memo co-founders Eric Garris and Justin Raimondo obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday.
The FBI memo also recommended that the San Francisco FBI office investigate whether Eric Garris, one of the site’s editors, was a threat to national security. The office declined, saying the “watch lists” were publicly available and that the editors’ free-speech activities posed no security threat.
After learning about the memo, Garris and Raimondo sued in 2013. They won their case and in 2017 the FBI agreed to turn over all the memos on them and their website and pay to cover the site’s $299,000 legal fees but refused to delete the 2004 document, saying it could “inform ongoing and future investigative activity.”
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.
If FBI records describe someone’s speech or actions that are protected by the First Amendment, the records can be “maintained” only if they are “within the scope of a currently ongoing authorized law enforcement activity,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima said in Wednesday 3-0 ruling.
Antiwar.com, a self-described “anti-interventionist, pro-peace website” with a libertarian orientation, was launched in 1995 to oppose U.S. military action in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Garris told the newspaper that the records the website obtained from the FBI showed that one reason for the proposed investigation was Raimondo’s criticism of the Iraq war in an MSNBC television appearance. Raimondo, a widely published writer in conservative magazines, died of cancer in June.
Garris said he also learned from the records that the FBI had put him on a terror watch list from 2002 until 2013.
“I would hope that the FBI would learn a lesson from this, that they need to go after real criminals and not just investigate people that they have political disagreements with,” Garris said.
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.
Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com