ACLU of Washington Seeks Files on Government Surveillance of Peace Groups
SEATTLE, WA -- In the wake of revelations of government surveillance of nonviolent protests, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington today filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on behalf of itself and 11 peace organizations across the state. The groups are seeking records of any surveillance of their activities by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defense or the Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“The government should not spy on groups engaging in peaceful political protest,” said ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor. “The FBI should focus its efforts on actual threats and not target people because of their political views.”
All the organizations in today’s filing have been involved in peaceful protest of government policies. Today’s action follows the recent disclosure of government files showing that the FBI and other federal agencies monitored nonviolent groups around the country, including peace groups in Washington during the 2003 Seafair Festival.
In addition to the ACLU of Washington, the groups include:
- American Friends Service Committee
- Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane
- People for Peace, Justice, and Healing
- Pierce County Truth in Recruiting
- Raging Grannies
- Seattle Peace Chorus
- Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War
- United for Peace in Pierce County
- Vancouver for Peace
- Yakima Valley Peace Advocates Network
- Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation
Files created by federal agencies in 2003 and released under a previous FOIA request filed by the ACLU of Washington show communications between the FBI and other agencies about Ground Zero, the Seattle Peace Chorus, Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War, and other groups. The original FOIA request was filed on behalf of Glen Milner of Ground Zero, a Bangor-based nonviolent group that opposes the use of nuclear weapons. The files reveal government agents collected information about Ground Zero’s plans to ride small boats in Elliott Bay to protest the Navy fleet, scheduled to dock during the annual summer Seafair Festival. The government also gathered information about political meetings and e-mails sent to allies about the peace flotilla. The surveillance created permanent government records that could later be misinterpreted or misused.
The monitoring shows an inappropriate and wasteful government interest in groups that the ACLU says have no history of violence. For example, an e-mail in the previously released files noted that the Raging Grannies, a group of elderly peace advocates who sing at events, had attended a potluck held by Snohomish County Peace Action of Edmonds. It noted that the Snohomish group’s Web site had links “from everything between Aljazeera.net and the Ground Zero Center for Non-Violent Action.”
“Our national security people should have better things to do than monitoring the Raging Grannies,” said Aaron Caplan, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington. “Domestic spying feeds the false notion that political dissent is automatically dangerous and somehow linked to criminal acts or terrorism. Expressing disagreement with the government is a central part of American freedom. It is not evidence of crime.”
The ACLU of Washington’s requests for public records are part of a national effort to uncover the extent of domestic surveillance of political groups under the “war on terror.” Documents obtained thus far have shown that the FBI and local police infiltrated political, environmental, anti-war and faith-based groups across the country. In Pennsylvania, files revealed that the FBI investigated gatherings of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice solely because the organization opposed the war in Iraq. In Georgia, the FBI and local Homeland Security officials spied on vegans picketing against a meat store in DeKalb County. In Santa Cruz, California, college students protesting military recruiters on campus ended up as “credible threat” in the Pentagon’s TALON surveillance program database.
More information on the national ACLU initiative is available online at www.aclu.org/spyfiles
To see copies of the government files about Glen Milner and Ground Zero, visit www.aclu-wa.org