The arrest of a political activist in Connecticut two weeks ago is fueling the ongoing debate over how far the federal government can and should go in monitoring groups and individuals it suspects may be planning criminal activities.
Legal experts say the monitoring is perfectly legal, particularly under post-Sept. 11 rules. While authorities are required to obtain warrants to access personal records, in most instances anything in the public domain is fair game.
But critics say the Jan. 3 arrest of freelance journalist Kenneth Krayeske went way beyond the pale.
Krayeske, 34, was taking pictures of Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell's inaugural parade in Hartford when he was approached by police and detained for 12 hours on charges of breach of peace and interfering with an officer.
Hartford police say they recognized Krayeske, a critic of Rell with a record of civil disobedience in anti-war protests, from a photo and briefing they received before the parade from state police and the Connecticut Intelligence Center, which is located at the local FBI office.
During the parade, according to police spokeswoman Sgt. Nancy Mulroy, "our officers observed [Krayeske's] behavior and in their opinion, based on his behavior, they considered him a threat."
The police report says Krayeske sped up to the parade route on his mountain bike "at a high rate of speed," dumped the bike and ran up to the procession "directly in front of where the governor was passing by."
He was "recognized … from the photograph provided by the state police," said Det. Jeff Antuna. He said officers intervened and "escorted him away from the governor and the parade route, which he resisted by attempting to pull away."
But Krayeske and some others tell a different story. Krayeske says he was taking pictures of other dignitaries when he rode over to catch a shot of the governor. He was able to snap a picture of her smiling before he was grabbed by police.Click here to see Krayeske's parade photos.
Witnesses said Krayeske's behavior was not out of the ordinary, and they confirmed that he was taking pictures when he was surrounded by police. According to his attorney, Norm Pattis, Krayeske was surprised by their approach but did not struggle. He was put in handcuffs immediately, Pattis said.
"He pulled his arm back because he was startled. He was shocked." Pattis said Krayeske asked why he was being grabbed and told the police, "You're not supposed to arrest anybody with an absence of probable cause."
Krayeske was initially held on $75,000 bond and detained until 1 a.m., after which he was released on a promise to appear in court. Pattis suggests the high bond for the misdemeanor charges was used to keep him there until after the evening's inaugural ball.
The attorney said the charges will likely be dropped. And if the case goes to court, "There is no question in my mind that he will be acquitted."
Democratic lawmakers, the city's mayor and the Republican governor herself are demanding an explanation of the situation, and two Democratic state senators have scheduled a Jan. 23 hearing in the General Assembly's Public Safety Committee to investigate.
Other elected officials are looking for an explanation of the so-called "list" that was distributed and named Krayeske and others as threats on that day.
"There is nothing about what this category of peace activists does that poses an actual threat," said state Rep. Mike Lawlor, referring to the types of activism that has earned Krayeske's "in your face" reputation around Hartford circles.
"The purpose of this situation was to intimidate," Lawlor said.
Krayeske reportedly confronted Rell publicly over the Green Party's non-access to the gubernatorial debates last year. But supporters say he has never been physically confrontational or threatened anyone.
State Rep. John Geragosian questions the motivations of the police in this case, and said he believes the arrest speaks to broader concerns.
"If this is going to be a threshold for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest — questioning what an officer is doing — it undermines the entire freedom of the press as well as general freedom of speech," Geragosian said. "It's a scary turn of events in this country at this time."
But Hartford police are standing by the arrest, and state officers insist they do not maintain a list of activists for surveillance. Lt. J. Paul Vance said police compile information on individuals who — based on past actions — may demonstrate a proclivity to "disrupt an event or act unlawfully."
"Law enforcement are always told if [these individuals] are observed, to simply give them scrutiny … any arrest will have to be based on probable cause," Vance said. He said it was "the officer's decision" to arrest Krayeske, and he declined to say whether probable cause had been demonstrated in the case.
Vance said that police have often been assigned to protect protesters as well.
"We recognize and understand that people have their right to free speech and to demonstrate, and we are obligated by law to protect everyone's right and that includes protesters," he said.
A Push Toward Surveillance?
Anti-war activists say they have long been tracked by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, but such activity has increased since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“I do believe that it is more pervasive than most people realize. Legal or not, the government will take whatever steps it feels necessary to insure their paranoid visions of security are realized,” said Jack Bussell, a member of Maine Veterans For Peace, which was tracked by the FBI in 2003, according to documents released last year through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Maine office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The documents apparently intercepted by the FBI included copies of e-mails detailing the group's activities as well as the names of individuals involved in local protests. Paul Bresson, spokesman for the FBI in Washington, said the agency does not track groups or individuals unless it has cause to believe they are likely to commit a criminal act.
“By no means are we spying on groups and intimidating them in a way as to deny them of their rights,” Bresson said. Nonetheless, he said, “there are situations where there is a potential for violence, and we know there are people who have been at such gatherings and have broken the law. We would be remiss as a law enforcement agency if we didn’t pay any attention to that potential problem.”
Other recent complaints from activists across the country have included:
— Local and federal law enforcement monitoring last year of anti-war groups like the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker pacificist organization, and Raging Grannies in Seattle before the annual Seafair summer festival;
— Inclusion in the Pentagon’s Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database — established to monitor terrorist threats — of protest activities organized or supported by the American Friends Service Committee;
— A "pretext interview" by four FBI agents and two Denver police officers at the home of a female member of the American Friends Service Committee before the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 2004.
Some civil libertarians say the federal government is exploiting the threat of terrorism to monitor and intimidate anti-war demonstrators across the country.
"It is extremely pervasive and very dangerous for a democracy," said Michael McConnell, regional director of the American Friends Service Committee.
"That kind of surveillance and spying of our own citizens, it has a chilling effect on freedom of speech and assembly," he said.
But Scott Silliman, director of the Center for Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University, said the line between tracking terrorists and intimidating peaceful dissenters is thin, and sometimes a balance is difficult to achieve.
Silliman said law enforcement officials occasionally go over the line, but he said he does not consider it systematic or as bad as the domestic surveillance against liberal groups in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Do we get it right 100 percent of the time? No. Are we striving to do that? Yes,” he said.