ACLU and Peace Fresno Call on California Officials and Lawmakers to Investigate Surveillance of Anti-War Group

April 21, 2004 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FRESNO, CA — In a formal complaint filed today with California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and Peace Fresno are calling for a full investigation into the undercover surveillance of the anti-war group.

“The infiltration of Peace Fresno was unjustified and is inconsistent with California’s constitutional right to privacy,” said Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “This type of law enforcement activity should not be allowed to happen again in Fresno or anywhere else in California. It is therefore vital that Attorney General Lockyer fully investigate this incident and issue specific guidelines to prevent similar incidents in the future.”

Peace Fresno, a community organization, learned in September 2003 that a member of the Fresno County Sheriff Department’s Anti-Terrorism unit had infiltrated and conducted undercover surveillance of its members between January and June.

“After six months of trying to get answers from the Fresno Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI, we still don’t know why we were infiltrated, what information was collected, and who authorized the surveillance,” said Nick DeGraff of Peace Fresno.

The ACLU and Peace Fresno are asking Attorney General Lockyer to:

  • investigate the role of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department Anti-Terrorism Unit in conducting surveillance of peace and social justice groups;
  • issue specific guidelines to the Fresno County Sheriff Department clearly stating that law enforcement may not monitor or spy on individuals or groups involved in First Amendment activity without reasonable suspicion of a crime; and
  • publicly release his office’s findings about the surveillance.

Peace Fresno members discovered one of its members was actually 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.

The groups also sent a letter today to Senator Barbara Boxer (D, CA), asking that she take steps to protect the privacy rights of Peace Fresno members and request a full accounting of the FBI’s involvement in the surveillance of the group.

Last 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.

The letter to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is online at
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The letter to Senator Barbara Boxer is online at
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