Alton, IL -- This posting may bring tears to your eyes -- of either laughter or despair, depending on your mood. Jim Bensman, a long-time Sierra Club forest activist, attended a meeting of the Army Corps of Engineers in July and found himself the subject of an FBI Investigation whose real target -- if there were any at all -- should have been the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Here's Jim's Keystone Cops story:
"It all started when I went to a public hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers proposal to build a fish bypass for a dam by me on the Mississippi River.
"The Army gave a PowerPoint presentation. They showed the initial alternatives they considered, including dam removal. When they discussed this alternative, they had a picture of a dam being blown up (as that is how you remove a dam). Then they indicated the alternatives under consideration that did not include dam removal.
"When it came time for public comments, I indicated they should develop the dam removal alternative. I pointed out how the dams cost the tax payers billions of dollars and do all kinds of massive environmental damage.
"I was sitting at home on July 31st when the phone rang, and the caller ID said Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI wanted to know if they could come to my place and talk to me. So I asked what he wanted to talk to me about."
The Agent told Jim that he was being investigated as a terrorist because of his support for blowing up dams.
"I was shocked. How stupid could the FBI be to think a terrorist would go to a public hearing and announce their plan to the Army? ... I asked the FBI why they were wasting their time on something this stupid. He told me they have to investigate everything.... After talking to me for a while, the FBI asked if it was OK for him to come to my place and talk to me if his boss wanted this. I told him I did not know. So he told me he was going to put down that I was not cooperating.
"So I consulted an attorney on what to do. I was advised to send the FBI a copy of the Army's PowerPoint presentation so they could see the Army was talking about blowing up the dams.
"I then talked to the FBI agent again, and he told me the investigation was closed and I am not on any terrorist list.... Finally, he told me it was the Army Corps of Engineers who called him. If true, that explains a lot and I can understand why they would investigate if the Army asks them to."
But why investigate Jim? Why not investigate the Corps of Engineers, whose original proposal to blow up dams Jim was simply supporting? (Yes, yes, I know the real question is "Why investigate when there is manifestly nothing to investigate?")
It's hard to imagine a more telling piece of evidence that the new powers vested in the Justice Department by the Patriot Act are being misused for political purposes -- in this case to harrass an involved citizen who doesn't agree with how the Army manages the nation's waterways. And Jim's story exposes the lie behind the excuse that "resource constraints" are the reason why real threats to our nation's security (like uninspected cargo containers arriving in every American port) are being ignored. Recall that, in Montana, Homeland Security has enough extra manpower to provide armed escort for convoys of bison headed for the slaughterhouse.
It appears that at least one FBI agent can be spared from downstate Illinois for some serious homeland security work. I suggest dispatching him to help the EPA finish the job of testing and cleaning up the areas around the World Trade Center tragedy. Three years ago this week, the EPA's Inspector General released a report that was highly critical of the Agency's performance following the collapse of the World Trade Center and called on it to implement a comprehensive testing and cleanup program for these areas, but nothing has been done. Resource constraints again?
And This Is What We Can Do About It
"Environment Illinois, a statewide environmental advocacy group, is sending a letter on behalf of the 64-member coalition to the Illinois General Assembly, urging state lawmakers to support a plan for dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.... The letter proposes the adoption of a renewable energy standard, establishing a goal of 8 percent of power in the state to be generated by renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar energy) by 2012, and setting a further goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. It also proposes setting energy efficiency standards for furnaces, appliances and residential buildings. Several elected officials signed the letter, including the mayors of Highland Park, Northbrook, Schaumburg, Skokie, West Dundee and several Chicago city aldermen."