Jim Bensman, a long time adversary of
the Army Corp of Engineers attended their meeting and supported
the alternative of removing the dam. The next thing he knew he was
being investigated as a suspect terrorist at the request of the
From being investigated
as a terrorist to national news
By Jim Bensman, ForestWatch Coordinator
Since the last Heatbeat, I was investigated
as a suspected terrorist by the FBI at the request of the Army
Corps of Engineers for speaking out against their dams. I wrote
up my story and posted it on some listserves. The next day the
New York Times called and ran the first of two stories.. From
there the story exploded (pun intended). Yesterday after many
papers (the story is also international now) ran the story, the
Associated Press took my picture by the dam for a national wire
story. And the New York Times ran an editorial on my story which
ended with, "All this started because Bensman believes the
Army Corps builds way too many locks and dams on the Mississippi.
We have always thought so, too."
Getting investigated by the FBI as a terrorist
is a terrifying experience. We do not even know what all secret
programs I was subjected to. I suspect the reason this became
a national news story is the fact that Bush's response to the
court finding his warrantless spying unconstitutional was don't
worry we are only using it on suspected terrorist. It shows we
need to worry.
I thought long and hard before deciding to
publicize my story. I've been falsely arrested before, had my
life threatened, and many similar experiences. Many of my friends
have had similar experiences and we are always finding out how
the FBI abuses their power. They were just caught investigating
the Quakers for their anti-war activities.
My hope was my story would get a little bit
of coverage and shine the spotlight on what our country is turning
into. I hoped it would be my little contribution to keeping us
free and protecting other activists from the abuse of power. This
has exceed my wildest expectation.
Here is what I wrote that caught the New York
with the FBI: How the FBI investigated me as being a terrorist
By Jim Bensman
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.
It all started a few days earlier 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 which 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. The local paper misquoted
me as saying, "Jim Bensman of Alton said he would like to
see the dam blown up and resents paying taxes to fix dam problems
when it is barge companies that profit from the dam."
So when the FBI told me they were investigating
me as a terrorist because of that story, 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. Certainly any intelligent
person could figure out even if the quote was correct it was obviously
meant for the Army to blow up the dam to remove it.
I asked the FBI why they were wasting their
time on something this stupid. He told me they have to investigate
everything. So I brought up when I got a threatening letter in
the mail (I suspected it was from someone with the Forest Service).
I took the letter to the FBI. They refused to investigate. The
agent said my file indicates that was because the US Attorney
said there was not a case. But there is a case here?
Their complete stupidity (it is no wonder they
blotched the 911 attacks) would be funny if it was not for the
Patriot Act, signing statements, secret spying programs, etc.
When it is this easy to get labeled as a suspected terrorist,
Bush's claims that they are only spying on suspected terrorist
does not give me any comfort.
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. He indicated there is something in my file that indicates
I was talked to. The FBI agent was indigent that I would think
the FBI would do something like this for political purposes. I
asked why they were investigating Quakers for their antiwar activists
and brought up past abuses such as Dr. King.
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.
He would not tell me who called the FBI.
There is no way anyone in the Corps could possibly
think I was a terrorist.. I've been fighting the dams and in their
face for decades. The Army, more than anyone, would know even
if it was a correct quote the context was I wanted them to consider
the alternative the Army developed to blow up the dam. The person
who ran the meeting emailed me, "NO one from the Corps that
knows you or that was at the meeting was concerned in the least.
When I heard of the FBI goings on I was more than surprised."
The reporter whose story the FBI cited told me, "That is
just crazy. I don't see how anyone in that room would have taken
your comments in a negative, threatening way considering your
seemingly humorous demeanor, joking, etc. while still making your
point about barges footing the bills, etc. and preferring the
dam go away. What a ridiculous waste of government time on all
This clearly is an outrageous abuse of power
and a violation of the First Amendment. Furthermore, if the FBI
is harassing citizens to further the Army's political agenda,
they are not working to catch the real terrorists.