FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Pentagon, FBI Documents Reveal Widespread Domestic Surveillance of Political Groups
“There is increasing evidence that the Pentagon improperly targeted innocent Americans for surveillance,” said Ben Wizner, an ACLU staff attorney. “These documents send a chilling message that if you oppose the war, the military is watching you. That is simply un-American.”
The documents released today consist of nine reports from the Pentagon’s Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database that describe as “threats” several planned demonstrations at military recruitment stations, including sites on college campuses. One report focuses on a planned protest at the Sacramento Military Entrance Processing Station by “a Sacramento chapter of a US domestic group.” According to the report, “this specific group is deeply into ‘counter-recruiting,’” and views the station “as their last chance to influence a decision to enlist.” Commanders of the Sacramento and San Jose stations were advised of the protests by the San Francisco Joint Terrorism Task Force. The report notes that “it appears this protest will most likely be peaceful, but some type of vandalism is always a possibility.”
An April 8, 2005 report lists planned protests by Veterans for Peace at nine different universities across the country. The source of the information, described as an active duty Army officer, states that “Veterans for Peace is a peaceful organization, but there is potential future protest could become violent.”
Another report, dated April 22, 2005, attempts to justify surveillance of Veterans for Peace by pointing to an altercation between a soldier and an individual at a university anti-war rally in New Orleans. According to the report, the soldier mistakenly arrived at the campus demonstration and was confronted by the individual. A security officer instructed the soldier to leave the area. Although the organization had a permit for the rally, and it is unknown whether the individual was a student or a veteran, the TALON report claims that “Veterans for Peace should be viewed as a possible threat to Army and DoD personnel.” The report was shared with local army personnel, the New Orleans Police Department and the New Orleans Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“It is appalling that the Pentagon would label peace activists-including those of us who put our lives at risk defending this country-as potential threats,” said Michael T. McPhearson, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace. “The federal government should not be wasting valuable resources gathering files on peaceful protesters who disagree with the Bush administration’s policies.”
The documents come in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU earlier this year after evidence surfaced that the Pentagon was secretly conducting surveillance of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups, including Quakers and student groups. After public outcry, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England announced in January that intelligence personnel would receive “refresher training on the policies for collection, retention, dissemination and use of information related to U.S. persons.”
So far Congress has failed to investigate how the Pentagon collected the information on innocent Americans, and which other agencies received these reports. In addition, Congress has yet to act on the hundreds of FBI documents previously obtained by the ACLU that show widespread surveillance by Joint Terrorism Task Forces of peace activists, religious groups, environmental groups and animal rights activists.
“Congress must shed light on this effort to spy on veterans and Quakers,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We are pleased that new leaders have signaled a desire to get serious about congressional oversight. No American should ever be targeted for exercising his or her First Amendment rights.”
Other documents released today include a February 24, 2005 report on protests planned at three New York City recruiting stations by the War Resisters League, which advocates nonviolence as the method for creating a democratic society. The report includes guidelines from the protest organizers stressing that participants must agree not to engage in physical violence or verbal use and not to damage any property. Still, in the same report, a Department of Homeland Security agent warned that individual members of the group may favor “civil disobedience and vandalism.” The report indicates that the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces in Atlanta and New York were briefed on the planned protests.
The TALON reports released today are online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/27459lgl20061121.html
More information on government surveillance of innocent Americans, including FBI documents, is online at: www.aclu.org/spyfiles