Political Research Associates, a nonprofit think tank known for its investigations of the U.S. Right and political repression, has received a $500,000 grant to conduct a multi-city investigation of how domestic surveillance changed after September 11th with increased coordination of federal and local policing agencies, particularly through Joint Terrorism Task Forces and intelligence fusion centers. The 19-month grant will fill a gap in civil liberties research and explore the deepening relationships among federal, state, local, and private police and intelligence agencies that greatly expanded the government’s capacity for domestic surveillance and policing. The grant was made by The Atlantic Philanthropies, an international foundation dedicated to making lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
The reconfiguration of the “homeland security” apparatus in the United States has blurred the lines between dissent and terrorism and between Muslims (among other suspect groups) and terrorists. Now institutionalized in the opaque operations of Joint Terrorism Task Forces and fusion centers, the basic architecture of these operations must be understood to evaluate the changes needed to protect civil liberties.
“Litigation by civil rights advocates has yielded valuable information, but we don’t yet have an overarching map of the current domestic security surveillance and policing infrastructure,” explains director of research Tarso Luís Ramos. Such a picture is badly needed by journalists, civil liberties litigators, policy makers, and advocates keen to safeguard the proper balance between liberty and security. With support from The Atlantic Philanthropies, PRA is launching a multi-city investigation to create that map.
PRA will work closely with local and national civil liberties and human rights organizations to maximize the strategic value of the investigation. To disseminate this work, PRA will develop an online central repository of the research and launch a robust, multichannel communications campaign to educate advocates, decision makers, and the general public.
“This is an incredibly exciting moment at PRA. We are pleased with The Atlantic Philanthropies’ partnership and support,” says Katherine H. Ragsdale, executive director of Political Research Associates. “We are pleased and proud that The Atlantic Philanthropies, as well as all our other supporters, believes so strongly in our ability to make a tangible difference in defending and advancing civil liberties and human rights.”
Founded in 1981, PRA has its roots in networks that helped expose the domestic spying scandals of the 1970s. Its quarterly magazine, The Public Eye, was launched in the 1970s by investigators exposing the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence program (COINTELPRO). PRA maintains an extensive free specialized library of primary and secondary materials on federal surveillance, local spy squads, and political repression, including some 20,000 pages of COINTELPRO documents. In the 1980s, PRA cooperated with another watchdog group to produce the Political Rights Information Series during an intense period of FBI and private spying on Central America activists. In 1985 PRA launched the first progressive online bulletin board system devoted exclusively to challenging the Right and defending civil rights and civil liberties.
PRA examines a wide range of anti-democratic movements and trends. Its areas of expertise include the anti-immigrant backlash and the rise of Islamophobia. PRA Editorial Director, Dr. Abby Scher, has tracked the crackdown on Muslims and Arabs in New York, and, with Senior Analyst Chip Berlet, published a major article on local police spying in Amnesty International’s national magazine. Berlet has sustained his research and writing in the area since working as a paralegal investigator for the ACLU-coordinated Chicago police spying lawsuits 25 years ago and serves on the board of the First Amendment Foundation. Most recently, he has reported for the Huffington Post on the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act.
About Political Research Associates
Political Research Associates is a progressive think tank devoted to supporting movements that are building a more just and inclusive democratic society. It exposes movements, institutions, and ideologies that undermine human rights. PRA seeks to advance progressive thinking and action by providing research-based information, analysis, and referrals.
About The Atlantic Philanthropies
The Atlantic Philanthropies are dedicated to bringing about lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Atlantic focuses on four critical social problems: Ageing, Disadvantaged Children & Youth, Population Health, and Reconciliation & Human Rights. Programmes funded by Atlantic operate in Australia, Bermuda, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Viet Nam. To learn more, please visit: www.atlanticphilanthropies.org.