ACLU Seeks Pentagon Files on Peace Groups
WASHINGTON -- In the wake of new evidence revealing Pentagon surveillance of peace groups and protest activities, the American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates across the country today filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests seeking to uncover who is being spied on by the Pentagon and why.
“The Pentagon’s monitoring of anti-war protesters is yet another example of a government agency using its powers to spy on law-abiding Americans who criticize U.S. policies,” said ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner. “How can we believe that the National Security Agency is intercepting only al Qaeda phone calls when we have evidence that the Pentagon is keeping tabs on Quakers in Fort Lauderdale?”
The ACLU filed national Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice and Greenpeace, as well as dozens of local groups in Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania and California. The ACLU is seeking the disclosure of all documents maintained by the Department of Defense on the individual groups. Many of the groups involved in today’s action, such as the Rhode Island-based Community Coalition for Peace, have already learned that they are listed in the Pentagon’s Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database.
The TALON program was initiated by former Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in 2003 to track groups and individuals with possible links to terrorism. But according to portions of the database that were leaked to the media in December, the Pentagon has been collecting information on peaceful activists and monitoring anti-war and anti-military recruiting protests throughout the United States. Following public outcry over the domestic spying program, current Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England issued a memorandum on January 13 directing intelligence personnel to receive “refresher training on the policies for collection, retention, dissemination and use of information related to U.S. persons.”
The ACLU believes the organizations and individuals monitored by the Pentagon have a right to know what information the military has collected about them. Today’s FOIA requests also seek to uncover whether the TALON records have been or plan to be shared with another agency, or otherwise disseminated.
“There is mounting evidence that people who are simply exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech or peaceful assembly are being unfairly targeted and scrutinized,” said Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Quakers worldwide. “Trampling upon the Bill of Rights is not the answer to stopping terrorism. Let us not erode the very principles and safeguards upon which our country was founded.”
The ACLU has exposed and challenged other expanded domestic spying programs as well. Documents requested by the ACLU under previous FOIA requests have revealed that the FBI is using its Joint Terrorism Task Forces to gather extensive information about peaceful organizations such as Greenpeace and Food Not Bombs. Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of journalists, scholars and attorneys against the National Security Agency for illegally intercepting vast quantities of the international telephone and Internet communications of Americans without court approval.
“The Pentagon spying program is part of a broad and disturbing pattern of spying on innocent Americans,” said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU. “Unchecked government spying has a chilling effect on free speech and causes Americans to think twice before expressing dissent or engaging in lawful protests.”
For details and documents regarding the FOIA requests filed today by the ACLU around the country, including a list of clients, go to www.aclu.org/spyfiles