Once upon a time the FBI investigated leftists at home, and the CIA subverted them abroad. This started to change in the 1960s, when crack intelligence squads from the CIA were required to stamp out domestic 'threats to stability.' The Black Panthers, anti-war groups and the American Indian Movement were all targeted by the CIA, which according to its own charter was restricted from doing so. Once the precedent was set, it was a smooth transition to gun running and drug smuggling onto private US airstrips in the 1980s, when the agency wiped its patriotic rear with the Constitution and helped turn Black America into a nation of crack zombies in order to illegally fund the Contras.
If the 1960s saw the CIA cut in on the FBI's turf, then recent years are witnessing the opposite trend. The FBI has caught globalization fever, and is currently dotting Central Europe with offices to complement its already impressive network of 43 centers operating off US soil. Along with one in Budapest, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation is launching an office in Prague, scheduled to open in June. According to Czech State Television, FBI chief Louis Freeh met with Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross to finalize arrangements and discuss an agenda for the joint US-Czech project, which is to include at least one agent and an administrative force. Although the training and intelligence gathering center is supposed to be fighting organized crime, the Central and Eastern European Review reports that one of the "main topics of discussion during Freeh's visit was the upcoming joint IMF/World Bank annual meeting in Prague in September."
Something tells me that those Albanian heroin rings aren't going to be out in full force next September 26th during the protests. No, the FBI is colluding with the Czech police to gather information on citizens exercising their constitutional rights. Not that anybody should be gasping at this.
In terms of practical obstruction, it is not clear what a bunch of G-men can accomplish. They can plant moles, monitor the listserves, collect names, and forward everything to the mother database in Washington; but they can't stop tens of thousands of European activists from trying to get into the country and filling the streets. It is no secret where activists are organizing in Prague, and anybody can join the email list offering detailed information about the protests. The FBI will basically be eavesdropping on an open conversation. The FBI may be convinced, along with Czech political elites, that the "largest threat to stability in the country is the extreme left" (Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman), but they should not be surprised to find no bomb making materials in opposition quarters. Unlike the extreme right, which actually kills people and has explicit political ambitions, the Czech anarchists, whose political expression is limited to an annual street party powered by a couple of diesel generators, are harmless. A minority of militants hold a penchant for breaking the occasional window and many of them fancy shocking imagined bourgeois sensibilities with pierced faces and various flavors of self-imposed disfigurement, but their actions cannot be anticipated or controlled by anyone, not even their fellow anarchists. In short, they are isolated, unpredictable and largely unaffiliated. If the FBI is after an imagined clique of well organized Fidelistas buried deep within some Molotov cocktail factory, they are wasting their time.
A more cynical and dystopic view of FBI involvement posits that global elites are merely integrating their intelligence networks as part of a long-term project in countering international movements for economic and social justice; which is to say, in countering the pan-European Left. Just as these movements gathered force in the 1960s and challenged traditional structures of power, it is possible that we are moving toward a similar era at the dawn of the new century. The Battle of Seattle--followed by Mayday demonstrations around the world and the IMF protests in Washington--was a wake up call to those interested in seeing popular struggle against the reign of capital stunted or reversed. We must remember that the 1960s were viewed by elites not as a flowering of consciousness or a period of liberation for subjected groups, but constituted a "crisis of democracy," according to the Trilateral Commission, the collective voice for elites in the US, Europe and Japan. Networks of activists involved in the struggle against the investor-centric model of globalization may become future targets of state repression, just as they were in the 60s and 70s. And the FBI is apparently doing the preparatory fieldwork.
Attempts to undermine or track these activist networks will be more difficult than in the past. They are extremely decentered. They extend beyond both national and hemispheric boundaries. They overlap. They have excellent communication systems. But perhaps most importantly, it is extremely difficult to garner popular approval for repression against them. For they are overwhelmingly nonviolent and support causes with widespread support. Unlike the Black Panthers, which worked out of a lone office and had an arsenal of guns aimed against 'whitey', the new protest organizations cannot be so easily raided and shut down. They can try, as they did in Washington, but it is all to little effect.
Clearly, the groundswell of global opposition to corporate tyranny--as represented by the policies of the IMF/World Bank--is bigger than the FBI, or any other organization for that matter. Even within the limited context of a single protest, I cannot see how their function can be anything but symbolic. Given the thousands of people who will descend on Prague in September--from Germany, Spain, England, Poland--the image of a handful of ear-wired US FBI officials in their three room office is almost laughable.
What isn't laughable are the priorities of those in power, who feel that democratic opposition to fascist structures of world governance should take law enforcement precedence over serious criminal syndicates operating in Central Europe. For there are in fact well funded and well organized cliques who warrant international cooperation between intelligence operatives in the US and Europe. But these cliques are not interested in sustainable development or debt relief, however. They have other interests, like the abduction and forced prostitution of teenage Ukrainian girls, kilos of heroin, cases of Kalishnakovs, and little vials of weapons grade Strontium.
I say let the FBI worry about these things, and let the citizens of the world take care of the IMF. But if the Bureau is really worried about us activists, they can start their files with me.