Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My favorite columnist, officially spied upon over Iraq

Ted Rall says it is so.

THIS, my dear Bush-lickers, is why I oppose warrantless domestic wiretapping. If I had a bigger name and circulation, it could have been me, not Ted Rall. Read below the break for more about what the government has been doing to him:

The Republican Party held its 2004 convention at Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan, a few miles north of Ground Zero. The 9/11 attacks had occurred less than three years earlier. If you'd been running the New York Police Department, what would have been your top concern? Terrorism. Mine too. Obviously.

The NYPD, however, wasn't worried about Al Qaeda. For them, the real threat to law and order were anti-Bush protesters. Of course, it's a given that demonstrations occur at every party convention. After 9/11, however, First Amendment-protected activism was anathema to our government. Officials sought to suppress all dissent, no matter how peaceful or innocuous. So they spied on celebs scheduled to participate in anti-RNC protests, including the rappers Jay-Z and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and on R&B singer Alicia Keys.

And Ted Rall.

According to The New York Times, “hundreds of pages of documents relating to [the NYPD’s] security preparations” released in response to a federal judge’s order show that “undercover officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists, and infiltrated chat rooms. Although they identified a few people who talked about disrupting the convention, they also monitored many more people who showed no intention of breaking the law.” The Times identifies me as one of the three “highlights from the police intelligence digests”:

"A November 13, 2003 digest noting the Web site of the editorial cartoonist and activist Ted Rall. 'Activists are talking, some with barely hidden glee, about the possibility of violence', an officer wrote, describing the postings on Mr. Rall’s site.” ...
More baffling, the security “experts” totally missed the point. I didn't call for violence; I suggested avoiding the possibility of mayhem at a time that politics had turned poisonous, by moving the Republican National Convention to another, less liberal city. (The NYPD dossier repeatedly attributes quotes to me that are actually me quoting others, a glaring error that the Times repeats, presumably because the paper doesn't have access to Google.)

My original October 28, 2003 column couldn't have been more clearly opposed to violence. “As a Manhattanite,” I wrote, “I hope that the Republicans will seriously consider moving their convention somewhere else...The risk of convention-related terrorist attacks should be reason enough to not hold it in a city that paid the highest price on 9/11. A revival of 1968, with cops fouling their batons with the blood of young people, wouldn't do anyone — left or right — any good.”

Government agencies began spying on me shortly after 9/11. I have repeatedly suffered service interruptions — loud static, whispered voices, even outages — at the hands of a government whose laughably inept phone-tapping skills match its inability to respond to a hurricane or tornado. Finally, a security official at Verizon confirmed that my telephone had been tapped. “That’s already more than I should have told you,” he explained, requesting anonymity. “Under the Patriot Act we're not allowed to inform our customers about intercepts.”

Eventually I was seeing my local Verizon repair guy, who was repeatedly being summoned to my home to restore service, more often than my best friend. So I was naturally suspicious when I caught an unfamiliar man, no uniform or badge, fiddling with the posts in my building’s phone box. “Who are you and what are you doing?” I demanded. The dude knocked me down and bolted out a door into an alley. Giving chase, I watched him drive off an unmarked white van with U.S. government plates.

Why, why, does this not at all shock me?

And, what I said by way of intro? I wrote against the war staring in the summer of 2002, in print, in my small suburban Dallas newspaper chain of weeklies columns. I wrote against a “Patriot Act” three weeks after 9/11. Were I in New York, with a bigger media footprint, like Rall’s, I don’t doubt the government would have spied on me, too.