The FBI collected detailed data on political activities and Web postings of suspected members of a tiny environmentalist commune in southern California two years ago as part of a counterterrorism probe, Newsweek reports. The bureau has agreed to settle a lawsuit and to pay $100,000 to Josh Connole, 27, an ex-commune member who had been arrested and released on suspicions he was one the eco-terrorists who had firebombed SUV dealerships in 2003. The FBI’s rare concession of error could bring new attention to what civil-liberties groups say is stepped-up monitoring of domestic political activity by FBI counter-terror agents.
Connole, an anti-Iraq-war protester, had been living in a Pomona, Ca., vegan commune when a Joint Terrorism Task Force targeted him after arson attacks on four nearby Hummer dealers–acts blamed on the Earth Liberation Front, which the bureau considers a domestic terror group. After concluding Connole looked like a lanky, goateed suspect caught on surveillance tape, agents arrested him at gunpoint on Sept. 12, 2003, then raided the commune. After his release, another suspect with no connection to the commune was arrested and convicted.