Alton, Illinois -- Jim Bensman, the Sierra Club activist who was being "investigated" by the FBI as a terrorist because he stood up at a public hearing being held by the Army Corps of Engineers and suggested that the Corps should pursue its idea of removing some dams to improve fish habitat, has now discovered that the Corps lied when it denied having turned him into the FBI as a suspect. In a response to The Alton Telegraph the Corps now says:
"On July 26, the Telegraph had an article on the day following the public meeting; we sent that article to our district staff. We had some employees who pointed out that the article attributed certain statements to Mr. Bensman. Our security officer's determination, based on U.S. Army regulations concerning possible threats to public facilities, was that the article should be forwarded to the appropriate federal agency, the FBI, for their consideration to determine whether there was a threat or not."
This item appears only a day after the Army Corps denied to the New York Times that it had asked the FBI to investigate Jim. Now the Army Corps admits that it sent the FBI a newspaper story which incorrectly said that Jim Bensman had suggested "blowing up dams" when this suggestion was actually the Army's own idea -- Jim simply said it was worth looking into. The Corps had prepared the PowerPoint presentation that had the picture of dams being blown up. They were aware that it was their idea, not Jim's; therefore, they knew that the article they sent the FBI was wrong. And the Corps further admits that it did not send the FBI the transcript of the hearing which would have clearly shown the FBI that Jim did not even make the statement which allegedly warranted turning his name over to the Bureau in the first place.
It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Army Corps of Engineers decided to set up one of their critics for an FBI investigation using a bogus charge based on a newspaper article the Corps knew was false. They withheld from the Bureau information in their possession which they knew exonerated Jim. They may well have assumed that eventually the FBI would learn the truth and drop the investigation, as the Bureau in fact did -- but in the meantime they were harassing Jim, and, one suspects, hoping to intimidate him.
Jim says in his email to me, "I just do not see any reasonable explanation for these facts other than the ACOE got the FBI to investigate me as a suspected terrorist to punish me for exercising my First Amendment rights. So I am looking forward to getting more information to base a final opinion of the situation on." He has asked the Corps for the regulation which they claimed required them to make the complaint to the FBI, the names of the individuals involved, and full disclosure of any other actions they took with regard to Jim for testifying.
The FBI should be furious for being used by the Corps to pay back a critic. The Defense Department should be getting rid of the Corps employees responsible for this outrage, but I'm not holding my breath. And Congress ought to find out how common this practice is.