When Eric Garris, the managing editor of antiwar.com, sent an email to the FBI requesting help in dealing with threats to hack his website he probably didn’t realize he was going to become the subject of the investigation. But that is exactly what happened as the FBI mistakenly identified Garris’ email about his own site as a threat against the FBI’s website.
But antiwar.com never threatened to hack the FBI website. Heavily redacted FBI documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and shared with the Guardian, show that Eric Garris, the site’s managing editor, passed along to the bureau a threat he received against his own website.
Months later, the bureau characterized antiwar.com as a potential perpetrator of a cyberattack against the bureau’s website – a rudimentary error that persisted for years in an FBI file on the website. The mistake appears to have been a pillar of the FBI’s reasoning for monitoring a site that is protected by the first amendment’s free-speech guarantees.
Is the US government really this dumb? Is the FBI? Someone asks for assistance in protecting their website from cyberattacks and the government misreads the email and engages in unconstitutional surveillance for six years?
John Kiriakou once told Firedoglake “Do not, under any circumstances, cooperate with the FBI.” Noting a propensity for dishonesty and ill-intentions that is historic. That’s advice Garris likely wishes he had followed.
Garris said he never heard back from the FBI, and had no reason to believe that the incident had any broader impact, until he saw what was in his FBI file. “It was pretty scary to think that in my FBI file, and perhaps other government agency files, there was a report that I was considered a threat based on that,” Garris said.
“That may follow me for the rest of my life. Any time I interact with any law enforcement or government agencies, they’re going to be able to see that, and make evaluations of me based on it. It’s very scary.”
Garris and his antiwar.com colleague, Justin Raimondo, became subjects of a six year long investigation with “threat assessments” performed in FBI offices throughout the country. Their speeches and writings were tracked and archived by the FBI and the website’s funding became a matter of interest for FBI analysts.
Garris and Raimondo had been aware they were under investigation but it was not until an ACLU lawsuit that they learned the reason why. They screwed up, they trusted the FBI.