Peace Groups in Maine Under FBI Scrutiny

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
February 1, 2006 12:00 am

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MCLU Joins Nationwide ACLU Effort to Uncover Details of Pentagon Domestic Spying Program

PORTLAND, ME – The Maine Civil Liberties Union announced today that it has uncovered evidence of Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance of the Maine Coalition for Peace and Justice. The FBI responded to a June records request from the MCLU with revelations that it has intercepted and collected past communications from members of the Maine Coalition for Peace and Justice, a statewide organization of individual citizens and Maine group representatives working collectively and nonviolently for social equality, economic justice, direct democracy, and regenerative environmental policies.

“Knowing that the government is spying without probable cause on innocent Mainers sends a chilling message to all of us that our conversations are not our own,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “Spying on peace activists exercising their First Amendment rights does nothing to make this country safer, but it does make us less free.”

In a related matter, the MCLU today filed a federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on behalf of local peace activists, protest groups and civil libertarians whose lawful activities may have been monitored by the Pentagon. The move is part of a national ACLU effort to reveal the extent and purpose of Pentagon spying.

The MCLU filed its FOIA request on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee: Maine Program on Youth and Militarism, the Maine Coalition for Peace and Justice and the MCLU itself. The MCLU is seeking the disclosure of all documents maintained by the Department of Defense on the individuals and groups, as well as information on whether the records have been shared with other government agencies.

The national ACLU filed a similar FOIA request on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice and Greenpeace. ACLU affiliates in Georgia, Rhode Island, Florida, Pennsylvania and California are seeking Pentagon files on local groups.

Activist groups across the country learned through news reports in December that they are listed in the Pentagon’s Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database. The TALON program was initiated by former Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in 2003 to track groups and individuals with possible links to terrorism, but the Pentagon has been collecting information on peaceful activists and monitoring anti-war and anti-military recruiting protests throughout the United States. Following public outcry over the domestic spying program, current Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England issued a memorandum on January 13 directing intelligence personnel to receive “refresher training on the policies for collection, retention, dissemination and use of information related to U.S. persons.”

Documents requested by the national ACLU under previous FOIA requests have revealed that the FBI is using its Joint Terrorism Task Forces to gather extensive information about peaceful organizations such as Greenpeace and Food Not Bombs. Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of journalists, scholars and attorneys against the National Security Agency for illegally intercepting vast quantities of the international telephone and Internet communications of Americans without court approval.

“The Pentagon’s monitoring of anti-war protesters is yet another example of a government agency using its powers to spy on law-abiding Americans who criticize U.S. policies,” said Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the national ACLU. “How can we believe that the National Security Agency is intercepting only al Qaeda phone calls when we have evidence that the government is keeping tabs on peace activists in Maine?”

For details and documents regarding the FOIA requests filed today by the ACLU around the country, including a list of clients, go to www.aclu.org/spyfiles

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