FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Defense Department Tracked Quakers, Student Groups
NEW YORK -- Documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal new details of Pentagon surveillance of Americans opposed to the Iraq war, including Quakers and student groups. The documents show that the Pentagon was keeping tabs on non-violent protesters by collecting information and storing it in a military anti-terrorism database.
"There is simply no reason why the United States military should be monitoring the peaceful activities of American citizens who oppose U.S. war policies," said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner. "When information about non-violent protest activity is included in a military anti-terrorism database, all Americans should be concerned about the unchecked authority this administration has seized in the name of fighting terrorism."
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 protest activities, anti-war organizations and groups opposed to military recruitment policies. The Pentagon shared the information with other government agencies through the Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database.
The TALON database was intended to track groups or individuals with links to terrorism, but the documents released today show that the Pentagon gathered information on anti-war protesters using sources from the Department of Homeland Security, local police departments and FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces.
Among the documents are reports on protest activities across the country organized or supported by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker peace group. The source for the information is identified as "a special agent of the federal protective service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security," who is apparently on the AFSC e-mail list.
One document, which is labeled "potential terrorist activity," lists events such as a "Stop the War NOW!" rally in Akron, Ohio on March 19, 2005. The source noted that the rally "will have a March and Reading of Names of War Dead" and that marchers would pass a military recruitment station and the local FBI office along the way.
Also included in the documents is information on a series of protests mistakenly identified as taking place in Springfield, Illinois (the protests actually occurred in Springfield, Massachusetts). According to the document, "Source received an e-mail from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), e-mail address: [REDACTED] that stated that on March 18-20, a series of protest actions were planned in the Springfield, IL area… to focus on actions at military recruitment offices with the goals to include: raising awareness, education, visibility in community, visibility to recruiters as part of a national day of action."
"Spying on citizens for merely executing their constitutional rights of free speech and peaceful assembly is chilling and marks a troubling trend," said Joyce Miller, AFSC Assistant General Secretary for Justice and Human Rights. "Our country is built upon a system of checks and balances. The Pentagon’s actions violate the rule of law and strike a severe blow against our Constitution."
Another document provides further details of surveillance of a protest planned by the Broward Anti-War Coalition during the Fort Lauderdale Air & Sea Show, which was previously revealed in an NBC news report. The document released today reveals that the Miami-Dade Police Department provided the Defense Department with information on the protest, and that the U.S. Army Recruiting Command and the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Miami were also briefed on the planned protest, which was intended to "counter military recruitment and the ‘pro-war’ message with ‘guerrilla theater and other forms of subversive propaganda.’"
The ACLU said it is concerned that the Defense Department cites acts of civil disobedience and vandalism as cause to label anti-war protests as "radical" and potential terrorist threats in some of the TALON reports. In a document listing upcoming Atlanta area protests by the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, the Pentagon - citing the Department of Homeland Security as its source - states that the Students for Peace and Justice network poses a threat to DOD personnel.
To support that claim, the TALON report cites previous acts of civil disobedience in California and Texas, including sit-ins, disruptions at recruitment offices and street theater. Describing one protest in Austin, Texas, the document notes: "The protesters blocked the entrance to the recruitment office with two coffins, one draped with an American flag and the other covered with an Iraqi flag, taped posters on the window of the office and chanted, ‘No more war and occupation. You don’t have to die for an education.’"
"The Pentagon has gone too far in collecting information on Americans who pose no real threat to national security," said Wizner. "It is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust for the military to play any role in monitoring critics of administration policies."
The documents released today are online at:
www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/27047lgl20060828.html (Florida protests)
www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/27046lgl20060912.html (Georgia, California and Texas protests)
www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/27045lgl20060912.html (AFSC protests in Massachusetts and Ohio)
More information on government surveillance of Americans is online at: www.aclu.org/spyfiles.