PROVIDENCE -- In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today announced it has received documentation confirming that federal officials entered information about a local peaceful protest into a terrorism database.
The two-page document, received from the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command, reveals that the Pentagon tracked a December 2004 peaceful protest planned by the R.I. Community Coalition for Peace (RICCP) in front of the National Guard recruiting station in downtown Providence. Information about the protest was listed in the Pentagon’s Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database, which was initiated by former Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to track groups and individuals with possible links to terrorism.
“Release of this memo from the TALON database confirms that the Bush administration’s so-called war on terrorism is becoming a war on American freedoms,” said ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown. “It is appalling to read a government memo that designates RICCP’s planned picketing as ‘potential terrorist activity.’”
The TALON document, dated December 10, 2004, begins by stating that it is being provided “only to alert commanders and staff to potential terrorist activity or apprise them of other force protection issues.” The memo explains that “an emerging RI coalition in opposition to the war in Iraq will hold a picketing action in front of a RI National Guard Recruitment Station” on “13 Dec 04 from 1630 to 1800.” The memo adds that the goal of the protest is “to create an awareness of an organized, action oriented anti-war movement in Providence.”
The TALON report is labeled “specific threats,” and the source of the warning is described as “a special agent of a federal law enforcement agency.” The memo adds that the source apparently obtained the information from a “posting on an Internet bulletin board.”
“When a federal agency uses the word ‘terrorists’ to refer to ordinary citizens exercising democracy, then both outrage and active defiance are in order,” said Nicholas Schmader of the RICCP. “This FOIA release will serve to make even more people aware that fear is being intentionally used to destroy our freedoms.”
The ACLU of Rhode Island filed the FOIA request in February on behalf of RICCP and three other peace groups. At the time of the ACLU’s FOIA request, news reports indicated that the Pentagon had gathered and shared political surveillance data with other government agencies through the TALON database. After four months passed without the release of any documents by federal officials, the ACLU of Rhode Island, in conjunction with the national ACLU, sued the Department of Defense to force it to turn over any documents relating to surveillance of the peace groups. The Defense Department agreed to settle the lawsuit by expediting the FOIA requests, leading to today’s disclosure. The December memo was the only document disclosed.
A copy of the document is online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/spyfiles/27268lgl20061101.html