Leftist politicians, by criticizing President George W. Bush’s wiretapping of overseas telephone calls with al-Qaeda suspects, have left the impression that Democrats are too fastidious to ever use such methods to eavesdrop on terrorists. This impression is wrong. We should give Democratic leaders their due. President Bill Clinton used questionable government surveillance in ways more sweeping than any Republican president would even consider doing.
In 1993, the first Islamist terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City killed six, caused a billion dollars in damage, and had the potential to topple one of the World Trade Center, killing up to 20,000 people.
In 1993, the Federal Bureau of Investigation thwarted an al-Qaeda “Day of Terror” plan to attack New York City’s Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, George Washington Bridge, the Manhattan Federal Building, and the headquarters of the United Nations.
In 1994, Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno launched infiltrators, wiretaps, mail monitoring, and a wide range of other spying activities in a massive coordinated effort that included the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; U.S. Postal inspectors; the U.S. Marshalls Service; and other Federal and local law enforcement agencies.President Bill Clinton had acted decisively to fight what he and First Lady Hillary Clinton deemed the most dangerous terrorist threat facing America: conservative Christians.
This huge Clinton surveillance scheme was VAAPCON, the Violence Against Abortion Providers Task Force. According to the U.S. Justice Department, VAAPCON “was charged with determining whether there was a nationwide conspiracy to commit acts of violence against reproductive health care providers.” The more than 900 targets of all this surveillance included the Christian Coalition, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Women’s Coalition for Life, Feminists for Life, Americans United for Life, the 600,000-member Concerned Women for America, the National Rifle Association, the American Life League, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and even then-Roman Catholic Cardinal of New York John O’Connor.
The Clintons, like other leftists, say they advocate “separation of church and state,” but a high percentage of the 900 groups and individuals targeted for state surveillance by the Clintons under VAAPCON were conservative – and especially Roman Catholic – religious organizations or leaders.
“What in the world are Janet Reno, Hillary, Bill, and their VAAPCON task force doing using law-enforcement personnel to infiltrate, collect, and assemble database information of this type?” asked then-Judicial Watch general counsel Larry Klayman, who had obtained VAAPCON documents through Freedom of Information Act requests. “We were told by one source that some in the FBI objected to the monitoring of these groups on legal and ethical grounds but were overruled by upper levels at Justice.”
“It wasn’t the inclusion of suspected criminals or the inclusion of old files on such activities that we objected to,” one senior FBI agent told Insight Magazine. “It was the collection of political and personal information on people such as the cardinal that many of us found objectionable…This is obviously political in nature and something we work hard to avoid.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Democratic leftists who today voice outrage at surveillance of foreign terrorist telephone calls by President Bush had nothing bad to say about VAAPCON, a program of Big Brother spying launched against Americans by President Clinton. Why?
President Clinton is a Democrat, not a Republican like Bush. And VAAPCON was aimed at conservative and religious groups whose leaders and members tend to vote for and support Republicans.
VAAPCON was also designed to help enforce FACE, the Clintons’ 1994 law called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. FACE is a peculiarly anti-First Amendment law that denies the right to free speech to certain groups but not others. Union protestors could legally block an abortion clinic access with a picket line while carrying signs that read: “Abortion Workers on Strike for Higher Wages! Local 69, AFL-CIO.” But those same protestors could be arrested and imprisoned if their signs read, “Mothers, think twice before aborting your baby.”
Conspiracy statutes have long been used as heavy artillery to ratchet up penalties for offenses. If, for instance, a six-year-old boy steals a piece of chewing gum, he has committed a misdemeanor, but if he conspires with a second boy to steal the stick of gum, the conspiracy could become a felony.
A tiny handful of crazies such as Eric Robert Rudolph did, indeed, carry out a few bombings of abortion clinics and assassinations of abortion doctors. By 1994, however, that threat was magnitudes smaller than Islamist crazies who had almost toppled a World Trade Center tower into New York City, but against whom President Clinton was strangely reluctant to lift a finger.
The Clintons, however, were willing to stretch every legal power against those they regarded as politically incorrect. Anti-abortion protestors, for example, have been prosecuted under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statutes enacted to go after organized crime. Clinton’s power-grabbing RICO precedent could be used by other presidents to punish almost every kind of protest, from the Boston Tea Party to animal rights and environmental activism.
Before VAAPCON’s powers began being dispersed to other agencies in 1996, it reported that “the evidence gathered did not support a definitive conclusion as to the existence of a nationwide conspiracy” against abortion providers.
But merely to be under surveillance, as the ACLU is fond of saying, casts a chilling shadow of implied guilt or suspicion over its targets. Questioned by Congressman Charles Taylor, R-NC, the FBI told him the VAAPCON “database only contained information on groups known to be or suspected of being involved in criminal activities.” By letting the public know that belonging to a peaceful organization or church opposed to abortion could get you a government dossier, the Clintons apparently were also trying to chill free speech and anti-abortion activism.
So if you were close to the late Cardinal O’Connor, or called him to discuss personal or family problems – even personal sins – to him, you may have been wiretapped and recorded by the Clinton’s VAAPCON surveillance. In that sense, the Clinton administration may have literally bugged the confessional.
The ACLU has voiced no objection to this, nor has it demanded that VAAPCON tapes and dossiers be destroyed as unconstitutional invasions of religious privacy.
VAAPCON provided both intimidation and political surveillance of groups and individuals on the Clinton enemies list. When questioned, one FBI agent told Insight Magazine that this use of VAAPCON’s database gathering “is wrong and it ought to be exposed for what it is, a political witch-hunt.”
“To put VAAPCON in perspective,” wrote investigative reporter Jack Cashill, “imagine the Bush administration targeting the Sierra Club, Robert Kennedy Jr., and Al Gore to deal with the issue of the Unabomber or environmentalist violence in general.”
In fact, such Bush spying might be less outrageous. When the Unabomber was apprehended, authorities found Al Gore’s anti-capitalist book Earth In The Balance by his bedside, heavily underlined. Democratic Congressman Bob Filner of California in one radio interview was unable to distinguish quotes from the Unabomber Manifesto and Gore’s ideological writing.
The VAAPCON database information included much more than abortion issues and questions of potential protests and violence. Its dossiers also carried a wide array of information about the positions targeted groups and individuals took on such issues as homosexuality, school prayer, the Clinton administration, and other issues having nothing to do with terrorism. These were political dossiers, as Insight documented, that could be used to identify and target ideological opponents of the Clintons.
History records other attacks aimed against Christians. In 64 A.D., after a fire burned down three-quarters of the city of Rome, the Emperor Nero to deflect attention from tales that he had started the fire to clear space for a bigger palace and then “fiddled” while it burned, needed a scapegoat. Nero – whose name in Jewish numerology is 666 – blamed the fire on a small Jewish sect in Rome called the Christians. They were, Romans claimed, cannibals, eating flesh and drinking blood in their secret rites (as it turns out, a reference to taking communion). They also circulated apocalyptic texts advocating the end of the world.
A handful of Christian leaders were rounded up and tortured until they named others, who in turn were tortured. Within days Nero was martyring thousands of Christians as tar-smeared blazing torches or as food for wild beasts or by crucifixion in the Circus Maximus. “An immense multitude was convicted,” wrote the Roman historian Tacitus (Annals, 15:44) of these Christians killed by Nero, “not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”
As the government was further estranged from Christian principles, it hunted Christians. Two thousand years later, Bill Clinton revived the charge that devout Christians are ipso facto guilty of “hate.”
Until leftist leaders speak out against VAAPCON and the Clintons’ other government surveillance activities aimed mostly at Christian groups, it is hard to take seriously their alarmist statements about today’s purportedly excessive government monitoring of international telephone calls that include Islamofascist terrorists.
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