Despite "extremely weak" evidence, FBI agents in Dallas investigated four environmental activists, placing their names on a terrorist watch list and secretly installing at least two cameras to monitor their activities, according to an internal government review released on Monday.
The report by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General reveals the investigation began on May 17, 2004, when agents became concerned the group Greenpeace might attempt to disrupt Exxon-Mobil's annual shareholder's meeting in Irving one week later. In fact, no such disruption occurred.
The review faulted the Dallas-based FBI agents for starting the probe without a legitimate reason in violation of government guidelines, then continuing the investigation even though it did not produce any evidence of a crime.
"The case agent was unable to specify to us any particular federal crime that he had in mind when he opened the investigation," the report said. Later documents identified the potential crimes as conspiracy, civil disorders, interruption of an energy facility, and travelling to riot.
The bureau continued the investigation for three years before it was dropped with no charges filed. Agents collected information on the activists' travel and protest activities and also monitored license plates of people they met, the report said.
"When we asked the case agent why he kept the investigation opened after the 2004 shareholder meeting passed without incident, he stated the fact that no criminal actions were taken at one shareholder meeting did not compel the conclusion that no criminal actions were being planned for the next," the report said.
In April 2005, agents secretly installed at least two cameras to monitor the activists' activities. Some details of the surveillance, including the apparent location of the cameras, were blacked out in the report. The inspector general said he was unable to determine when the cameras were removed, but that it was sometime before the investigation concluded in 2007.
The report identifed the four activists who were under investigation only under pseudonyms.
The inspector general concluded the FBI did not target the activists because of their peaceful protests, which are protected by the First Amendment. But the report also said "the predication for this investigation as relating to a federal crime was extremely weak."
"We think this is ultimately some pretty poor research on the part of the FBI," Greenpeace research director Kert Davies said. "They certainly were monitoring us for First Amendment things because that is all we do."
Davies said the group organized large protests at the Exxon-Mobil shareholders meetings in 2002 and 2003. A number of activists were arrested, he said.
He said the group parked large panel vans outside the oil giant's headquarters with signs saying, "Global Warming Crime Unit."
"We actually shut the building down for awhile," he said.
Davies acknowledged Greenpeace members engage in civil disobedience but said the group advocates peaceful protests and would never harm people or property.
"What's troubling here is the FBI was spying on behalf of corporations," he said.
The FBI in Dallas had no comment.