A Specious Species

FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force finally
stumbled onto the Raging Grannies. I know I’ll be
sleeping better at night. For those unfamiliar with the Grannies,
they’re peace activists who subscribe to the impudently impish
notion that it’s better to be outrageous than to be outraged. To
this end, the Grannies wear big hats and goofy costumes and write
clever songs against the war, which they belt out with more gusto
than polish in public places. The Grannies boast sleeper
 — which they cleverly call “chapters” — just about
everywhere on the Pacific Coast except, naturally, for Santa
Barbara. The city’s strict design guidelines, it turns out,
discourages the wearing of big hats anywhere, let alone by large
numbers of older women. And ever since street musician
Mason B. Mason passed away, Santa Barbara’s
gendarmes have kept a tight lid on loud singing. Seattle’s Grannies
chapter came to the attention of FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force
agents in 2003 when the Grannies, along with 10 other peacenik
groups, began protesting the inclusion of Navy warships at the
Seafair festival, an age-old celebration of
Seattle’s nautical culture. According to recently released federal
documents, we now know that members of Seattle’s Raging
Grannies — who range in age from 60 to 86 — attended a political
potluck hosted by an activist who’d been arrested for trying to
keep the warships from entering Elliott Bay using a
glorified dinghy. We also have learned that the
Grannies attended a meeting called by a peace group whose Web page
contained a link to the Arab news service
Aljazeera. Given that President George
and British Prime Minister Tony
had discussed the very real possibility of bombing
Aljazeera, one can see why this link might be cause for national
concern. Some Grannies are giddy with all the attention, but
Monica Zucker — who at 78 qualifies as an “OG”
Granny — remains alarmed. Once you wind up in the FBI’s terrorism
files, she noted, you never get out. Your name gets passed from
agency to agency and pretty soon you’re not allowed to board a
plane or leave the country.

If nothing else, the Grannies have lots of company.
PETA, Code Pink, the
Earth Liberation Front, Food Not
, and even the Quakers have all been
subjected to domestic surveillance since the war on Iraq commenced.
Justice Department officials in charge of domestic
terrorism have declared it their highest priority to crack down on
radical environmentalists who vandalize
Humvee and other gas-guzzler dealerships. It turns
out that five Grannies in San Jose were arrested for chaining
themselves to the gates of a Ford dealership, protesting the
automaker’s refusal to produce clean-burning, fuel-efficient cars.
Mostly, however, the domestic spying focuses on anti-war activists.
In 2002, when Pittsburgh peaceniks associated with
the Thomas Merton Center distributed anti-war leaflets,
G-Men were on hand to photograph the event.
Longtime Santa Barbara peace activist Bud Boothe,
who’s spent the past 20 years protesting outside the gates of
Vanbenberg Air Force Base, is hardly the sort to be looking over
his shoulder for Men in Black. But over the years,
Boothe has noticed that base security forces always seem to know
how many protesters are coming even before they get there. Maybe
this has something to do with the military helicopters that Boothe
says fly over his Los Olivos property — which serves as a makeshift
campground for out-of-town activists — just prior to their peace
actions. In many such instances, local police cooperate with
federal agents in monitoring the activist community. Normally, I’d
bet a million bucks this isn’t happening in Santa Barbara. But
after talking to Santa Barbara Police spokesperson Lt. Paul
about it, I no longer know what to think. When I
asked point blank whether city cops engage in domestic
, McCaffery, normally a fountain of
information, went all Socratic on me. He countered
each of my queries with a question of his own. “What do you mean by
‘domestic surveillance’?” he shot back. It went like that for about
20 minutes. Before giving up, I pointed out that McCaffery’s
responses fell into the category of “non-denial
For once, he didn’t answer me with a question.
And he didn’t deny it either.

What mystifies me is why the feds even bother. There’s no
evidence the Powers-that-Be have allowed actual
information to contaminate their decision-making process. If
nothing else, the trial of Zacarias
— widely described as the Barney Fife of Al
Qaeda — demonstrates the FBI’s aggressive hostility to useful
information. The feds are now seeking the death penalty for
Moussaoui, contending he could have prevented the carnage of 9/11
had he spilled the beans upon his arrest on a visa violation in
August 2001. But the real story is much murkier. Moussaoui first
came to the FBI’s attention when a Minnesota flight instructor
warned them about his weird student who wanted to learn how to fly
a 747 but not how to land it. The flight instructor had to call the
FBI repeatedly, only getting the agency’s attention when he warned
that “a 747 loaded with fuel can be used as a bomb.” When Moussaoui
was finally picked up (on a visa violation), junior G-Men (and
women) got excited, and repeatedly pressed their superiors to
obtain a search warrant for Moussaoui’s laptop. Despite reports
from French intelligence agencies that Moussaoui was an Al Qaeda
operative — at a time when the Bush administration’s own security
advisors were warning the president that an Al Qaeda attack in the
United States was imminent  — the FBI brass refused to ask for such
a warrant, arguing they couldn’t demonstrate probable cause.

In hindsight, we can’t say with certainty that 9/11 could have
been prevented had federal agents taken Moussaoui seriously and
acted sooner. But I’d find it reassuring to know they at least

In the meantime, I sleep better at night knowing that our
anti-terrorism agencies have the Raging Grannies in their
crosshairs. But then, I have to take a lot of Benadryl to get


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