McAllen IN THE NOVEMBER issue of the Texas Police Journal, Hico, Texas, police chief Arthur E. Gerringer announced the formation of a private intelligence-gathering network which would utilize state police sources to maintain a data bank on groups and individuals considered “terrorist” material. Gerringer, who believes organized terrorism may soon swamp both the U.S. and Texas, said terrorist groups exist in Texas right now. He named a lawyers association, a book club, groups of foreign university students, an “extremely anti-IRS” group, and associations opposing U.S. military intervention in Central America as either “terrorist” or terrorist “fronts.” In a letter to the editor of the police journal, which also published his fourpage article on terrorism, Gerringer asked state law enforcement agencies to submit “information, names, reports and documents on terrorist groups, individuals and incidents” to his Institute for Strategic Studies on Terrorism. Saying his institute will serve law enforcement agencies, the Hico police chief asked those agencies to assist in compiling and maintaining the institute’s data bank. Information from the data bank would be released to them and to corporate security officers. But Attorney Jim Harrington, legal director of the Texas Civil Liberties Union, questioned whether the institute’s private designation might simply be a subterfuge to get around constitutional guarantees proscribing certain forms of intelligence-gathering by government agencies. Gerringer, in effect, advocates formation of “police vigilante groups” which would spy on citizens involved in political activity, he said. “That sounds like the stuff we hear going on in totalitarian countries,” Harrington said, “police spying on people, neighbors spying on each other. He’s trying to create a ‘Big Brother’ shadow network of spies which will gather information on the side. We don’t Regular Observer contributor Scott Lind is a reporter for the McAllen Monitor. 10 DECEMBER 14, 1984 need our version of the secret police in Texas.” Gerringer, asked whether some political groups involved in Texas politics are, or may be, terrorist, said there are such but declined to publicly name them. He did, however, release names of other groups operating in Texas which he believes are terrorist, or fronts. One group, he said, is “violently active.” Another is a lawyers’ association providing legal counsel. Another, a group opposing payment of income taxes, has its headquarters not far from Hico, but the FBI won’t release information on it to him. Gerringer said his institute, in addition to providing three-day training sessions for law enforcement and corporate security officers, was formed to create an “ongoing, data bank-type situation where all information possible can be gathered up on terrorist organizations, members, actions, ideologies, political thinking, and objectives.” Such information could come from law enforcement officers in their official capacity. A police officer, Gerringer said, covering a rally or demonstration could provide information to the institute if the officer has reason to believe that there’s “more to it . . . than a casual grouping of individuals on the street. We’re not in the habit of surveilling groups and individuals that want to exercise their rights. But if, within a particular group, there’s a re-occurrence of individuals with ties to nefarious organizations, then that information can be exchanged.” Harrington questions the legality of Gerringer’s assumptions regarding the scope and role of his private agency. Although the Institute for Strategic Studies on Terrorism may call itself a private entity, Harrington said, a court could find that the institute functions as a government agency and that its information-gathering and dissemination activities are unconstitutional. He noted that Gerringer describes the institute as one that serves law enforcement bodies. “A police chief running a private organization that passes out information to other police departments? People won’t believe that it’s just private.” Although private agencies don’t have to operate under the same constitutionally mandated guidelines on intelligencegathering as government agencies, Harrington said Gerringer’s institute even as a private group could be found to be engaging in unlawful acts if it violates citizens’ rights to privacy, slanders them or questions their integrity. Gerringer believes that terrorist groups operate from behind respectableseeming “fronts.” According to him, they use “a variety of tactics to ply their trade and spread their ideology. Most often, these groups start with protests, rallies and demonstrations.” He said he has “gobs of information on terrorism, counter-terrorism tactics, political leanings, front organizations,” which could be part of training sessions for law enforcement agencies, whether at their headquarters or in regional police academy settings. The institute director believes U.S. laws restricting government intelligencegathering and dissemination activities need to be loosened, so intelligence officers can freely exchange “pertinent information concerning individuals or organizations whose ideologies, statements, and actions indicate on a reasonable basis that they have a propensity for committing terrorist acts.” Acknowledging that it is “difficult, sometimes, to know 100 percent for sure” whether an organization will commit terrorist acts in the future, Gerringer suggested that properly trained and supplied officers could do just that. After obtaining information from public, private, and government sources, an officer could “take that information and responsibly study, research and assimilate it. “You do it to such a refinement,” the Hico police chief continued, “that a high percentage of accuracy can be assessed on which groups will commit terrorist acts. You have to make presumptions of what’s occurring, based on past activities, individuals, places, who we know to be involved.” Harrington, no stranger to the phenomenon of surveillance, considers Gerringer’s techniques to be little more than a replaying of a familiar script. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, groups such as the United Farm Workers Union, Colonias del Valle, Mexican American Youth Organization, and La Raza party leaders were subject to pervasive scrutiny. Those days have passed in the Rio Grande Valley, but Gerringer’s proposed intelligence network, nevertheless, has a familiar ring for Harrington. The ACLU legal director said Gerringer’s “reasonable basis” justification for expanding law enforcement A Private Intelligence Network By Scott Lind
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