August 27, 2006

Environmentalist's suggestion leads to scrutiny by the FBI

ST. LOUIS - Jim Bensman thought his suggestion during the Army Corps of Engineers public hearing was harmless enough: Folks seeking ways to ease the way for migratory fish should simply rip out a Mississippi River dam in their way.

But the Sierra Club member and self-described thorn to the Army Corps has found his remarks to have quite a ripple effect, drawing the FBI's scrutiny over whether he has any terrorist intentions.

A day after attending the Army Corps' July 25 forum in Alton, a newspaper report that Bensman proposed during the meeting that the dam be blown up made its way to a security chief for the corps, who forwarded the clipping to the FBI.

Bensman said he only suggested the dam be removed and never said anything about blowing it up, though the Army Corps routinely uses explosives to clear obstinate river impediments. But 46-year-old Bensman said that within days, the FBI had him on the telephone, probing whether he was any threat.

"To think I'm a terrorist is utterly ridiculous," Bensman said from his Alton home, wondering if the scrutiny exposes the U.S. government as overly sensitive. "How could any reasonable person think a terrorist is going to come to a public meeting held by the Army Corps, let them know who they are and announce their terror plot? It just doesn't make sense to me."

The case, he submits, "shows just how easy it is to be labeled a suspected terrorist."

An Army Corps spokesman in St. Louis isn't offering apologies, casting the agency's deferral to the FBI as a judgment call.


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