ACLU Report Shows Widespread Pentagon Surveillance of Peace Activists

January 17, 2007 12:00 am

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Pentagon Tracked at Least 186 Anti-Military Protests

No Real Threat: ACLU Report on the Pentagon’s Secret Database
> Complete Report (PDF)
> Press Statement (1/17/2007)

> Government Spy Files

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today released a new report revealing that the Pentagon monitored at least 186 anti-military protests in the United States and collected more than 2,800 reports involving Americans in an anti-terrorist threat database.

“It cannot be an accident or coincidence that nearly 200 anti-war protests ended up in a Pentagon threat database,” said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU. “This unchecked surveillance is part of a broad pattern of the Bush administration using ‘national security’ as an excuse to run roughshod over the privacy and free speech rights of Americans.”

The ACLU report reviews hundreds of pages of Defense Department documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed last year. The documents revealed that the surveillance of peace groups and anti-war activists was more widespread than previously known.

The latest document obtained by the ACLU, and released today, is an undated 2006 memo reviewing the Defense Department’s Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database, which was found to list several peaceful protesters as potential threats to the military. According to the memo, as of February 10, 2006, the Defense Department had deleted 186 TALON reports that involved “anti-military protests or demonstrations in the U.S.” In addition, the Defense Department identified 2,821 TALON reports remaining in the database that contain what the Department describes as “U.S. person information,” but it is unclear whether those reports pertain to protest activities.

The memo also states that “personnel from 28 organizations were authorized to use TALON” and 3,589 users have been authorized to submit TALON reports or access the database. Because of such wide access to the database, even deleted reports may still appear in the files of other government agencies, the ACLU said.

The ACLU said the Pentagon’s misuse of the TALON database is just one example of increased government surveillance of innocent Americans. With the help of phone companies, the National Security Agency has been conducting warrantless wiretapping of U.S. phones and reading the e-mails of countless Americans, all without a warrant. The FBI has gathered information about peace activists and recruited confidential informants inside lawful advocacy organizations like Greenpeace and PETA. Less than a month ago, President Bush signed a statement declaring that he is authorized to open the domestic mail of American citizens without a warrant. This weekend, The New York Times revealed that the Pentagon has been using “National Security Letters” to obtain banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans.

“Congress should not let this president off the hook for inappropriate surveillance by the Pentagon,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Americans must once again be confident we can exercise our constitutionally protected right to protest without becoming the subject of a secret government file.”

In response to the ACLU’s FOIA requests filed on February 1, 2006, the Defense Department has released dozens of TALON reports that were compiled on Americans. Many of the reports focus on anti-military recruitment events and protests, including activities organized by the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee, United for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace, and Catholic Worker. The TALON reports tracked events in 13 states and the District of Columbia: Alabama, California, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas.

The ACLU said that, even though the Defense Department has conceded that much of this information should not have been retained in its TALON database, there are still many unanswered questions.

“We do not know whether the Department of Defense maintains other threat databases that include similar information, nor whether Department of Defense personnel are engaged in other information-gathering about United States citizens,” said the ACLU in its report. “We do not know the extent to which other federal agencies might have been involved in collecting this information. We do not know whether the information improperly included in the TALON database was distributed to other government agencies.”

The report added, “we have only the Pentagon’s word that the errors and misjudgments that led to widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens have been corrected.”

The ACLU report, No Real Threat: The Pentagon’s Secret Database on Peaceful Protest, is available online at:

The Pentagon document released today as a result of the ACLU lawsuit is online at:

More information on government surveillance is online at:

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