Papers shed light on FBI's anti-war activist probe

Mick Kelly, Jess Sundin
Long-time anti-war activist Mick Kelly talks about FBI documents left behind in a raid last September on his home in Minneapolis after raids on several anti-war activists, including Jess Sundin, right, during a news conference Wednesday, May 18, 2011 in Minneapolis.
Jim Mone/AP

Two prominent anti-war activists released documents Wednesday that they said the FBI left behind during a search of their apartment in Minneapolis last year.

Mick Kelly said his wife, Linden Gawboy, discovered the documents two weeks ago. Kelly said the papers were in a manila folder, and were found in a stack of other papers that FBI agents had gone through during the raid in September 2010. Kelly was one of the main organizers of protests against the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

The documents shed new light on the focus on the FBI's raids on the homes of several Minneapolis residents. They indicate that the FBI believed the people targeted in searches in Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and elsewhere had provided support to two groups considered to be terrorist organizations by the United States.

All of those served with search warrants have been called to testify before a federal grand jury but have refused to participate, calling the investigation an attack on the anti-war movement. They have not been charged in connection with the investigation.

The documents include a five-page operations plan for the search, a list of 102 interrogation questions, copies of two articles published online about two of the activists' travels to Colombia, and what appear to be photos of one of the apartments that was searched.

Read the FBI documents in question.

FBI spokesman Steve Warfield told the Associated Press that most of the papers appear to be legitimate FBI documents. Warfield also said it seems the papers were left behind by mistake. He said the FBI investigation is "pending."

The documents indicate the FBI was interested in membership in the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, or FRSO, a Marxist-Leninist group based in Minneapolis and Chicago. The interview questions are labeled "FRSO Interview Questions," and include questions about the group's membership, leaders, structure, and purpose.

"There is an odd 1950s red scare tone to it," Kelly said at a news conference Wednesday.

The operations plan said Kelly is "considered dangerous due to possession of weapons." The list of questions includes 11 specifically for Kelly, and include: "Do you own a gun?," "For what?" and "Have you taught any FRSO members how to shoot?"

Kelly said he owns a rifle and a handgun, but said he has never used them for anything other than recreation. He said he thinks the questions originated from a conversation he had with a suspected undercover law enforcement agent about plans to go shooting at a gun range.

Kelly said the FBI agents also left behind two other documents that they have decided not to release to the media. They said an attorney advised them not to release the documents, which they said were labeled "law enforcement use only" and contain the names and phone numbers of FBI agents. The operations plan released to the media includes the names of FBI agents, but not their phone numbers.

The operations plan states that the investigation was initially focused on the activities of Meredith Aby and Jessica Sundin, who have traveled to an area of Colombia controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.

The group, known by its Spanish acronym FARC, is a left-wing guerrilla organization that opposes U.S. intervention in the country and claims to fight on behalf of impoverished peasants. The group has attracted international condemnation for kidnapping politicians and others to fund its activities.

Sundin has said she went to Colombia in 2000 to attend a political conference in Bogota, but also traveled to southern Colombia to observe peace talks between FARC and the Colombian government. She said she did not give FARC any money, items, advice, or other aid or support.

"I think this is more about the FBI wanting to attack the anti-war movement," Sundin said at the news conference Wednesday. "I think they're trying to build a dramatic story."

The operations plan states, "Subjects in Minneapolis, Chicago, Phoenix, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Charlotte divisions have provided and/or conspired to provide material support to the FARC and/or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also a U.S. State Department Designated FTO." FTO stands for foreign terrorist organization.

It states that the investigation was expanded to include 12 other people in six FBI field divisions. The search warrant for Kelly's residence, which was released by activists in September, stated that authorities were seeking evidence that Kelly provided, attempted, or conspired to provide "material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations." Kelly said the other five people received similarly worded warrants and subpoenas.

The government's definition of material support includes providing "expert advice or assistance" to groups on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorists.

Attorney Bruce Nestor, who has provided legal advice to the activists, said the definition is too broad. He accused the government of harassing Aby and Sundin for legally traveling to Colombia.

"It makes it sound like they slipped across the line to some guerrilla-controlled area," he said.

Nestor said none of the Minneapolis residents whose homes were searched have received any indication that they are the target of the grand jury investigation. He said prosecutors and law enforcement officials did not contact them when they failed to appear before the grand jury.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.