ACLU Welcomes CA Attorney General's Investigation of Undercover Surveillance of Anti-War Group

June 29, 2004

Infiltration of Peace Fresno Featured in Michael Moore's Film Fahrenheit 9/11

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SAN FRANCISCO - The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed the news that California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has agreed to conduct an investigation into the undercover surveillance of Peace Fresno, a community organization featured in Michael Moore's new film Fahrenheit 9/11. 

In April, Peace Fresno and the ACLU of Northern California filed a formal complaint with the attorney general's office calling for a full investigation into the undercover surveillance of the group. 

""We are pleased that the attorney general has agreed to conduct an investigation of the surveillance activities of the Fresno County Sheriff,"" said Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California. ""Members of Peace Fresno deserve to know why they were spied on. We  welcome the attorney general's commitment to review not only this incident but the general intelligence gathering practices of the Fresno Sheriff Department.""

The organization was infiltrated by a member of the Fresno County Sheriff Department's Anti-Terrorism unit in 2003 and is portrayed in Moore's film as an example of civil liberties violations in the post-September 11th climate.

Peace Fresno members discovered one of its members had actually been a government agent when the Fresno Bee published an obituary on September 1, 2003, about Aaron Kilner's death in a motorcycle accident. In his obituary, Kilner - known to Peace Fresno as Aaron Stokes - was identified as a member of the Fresno County Sheriff's Department's "anti-terrorist team." When members of Peace Fresno saw the picture and read the obituary, they began piecing the story together.

In their complaint, the ACLU and Peace Fresno specifically asked the attorney general: 

  • Why Aaron Kilner attended Peace Fresno meetings under a false name and misled its members for six months?
  • Who authorized or directed Aaron Kilner to attend Peace Fresno meetings?
  • What happened to Aaron Kilner's notes?
  • Are there time cards or other records that document Kilner's activities during that six-month period?
  • Was the Joint Terrorism Task Force or FBI involved? 

""We thank the attorney general for taking this important step and we expect the investigation to be thorough,"" said Nick DeGraff, Vice President of Peace Fresno. ""Members of Peace Fresno are eager to talk with investigators about what they saw and are willing to provide all relevant documentation. It has been over a year since our organization was infiltrated and we look forward to finally learning about why we were spied on.""

In January, the ACLU and members of Peace Fresno filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act seeking information about the government's infiltration of the local group. The requests were filed with the offices of the FBI and U.S. Attorney, who maintain a Joint Terrorism Task Force with local law enforcement agencies in the Fresno area. The requests were prompted in part by the New York Times' disclosure last November of an internal FBI bulletin advising local law enforcement agencies around the country to report certain protest activities to the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

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