New York Times:
Internal military documents released Thursday provided new details about the Defense Department's collection of information on nationwide demonstrations last year by students, Quakers and others opposed to the Iraq war.
The documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, show, for instance, that military officials labeled as "potential terrorist activity" events like a "Stop the War Now" rally in Akron, Ohio, in March 2005.
The Defense Department acknowledged last year that its analysts had maintained records on war protests in an internal database past the 90 days its guidelines allowed, and even after it was determined there was no threat.
The database is called TALON, for 'Threat and Local Observation Notice'. Why do all these things have these kinds of names? Does the pentagon have a group of ten year old boys who think of 'cool' names for these and, if so, how long before we find out about Project SKELETOR?
"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."
So what got these groups in the database? Exercising the First Amendment, basically. According to the Times:
An internal report produced in May 2005, for instance, discussed war protests at the University of California-Santa Cruz, and was issued "to clarify why the Students for Peace and Justice represent a potential threat to DOD personnel."
The memorandum noted that several hundred students had recently protested the presence of military recruiters at a career fair and demanded that they leave.
"The clear purpose of these civil disobedience actions was to disrupt the recruiting mission of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command by blocking the entrance to the recruiting station and causing the stations to shut down early," it said.
But the document also noted that "to date, no reported incidents have occurred at these protests."
The ACLU gives us a few examples of 'incidents' the pentagon found worthy of tracking with TALON.
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, American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) 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."
The bottom line is that this is America and, if we don't like what the government is doing, we have a right to tell people. That's what I've been doing everyday with this blog. I guess that makes me a 'potential terrorist.' In fact, I had a hit from the National Security Agency in my sitemeter logs a while back -- they went straight to comments about Iran. Am I in a database somewhere? I wouldn't bet against it.
Notice one thing these groups have in common? They're all lefty. No rightwing groups in here -- no neonazi rallies or abortion protests or antigay demonstrations. They're all liberal. Clearly, history shows us that violence as at least as likely (to put it mildly) at an abortion clinic as it is at an antiwar rally. Yet those 'terrorist threats' aren't worthy of tracking at all.
This doesn't have anything to do with terrorism. This has to do with politics. The Pentagon and the administration don't like people who oppose them politically and that puts us in the same camp as al Qaeda. If this were about actual terrorism, why would Quakers -- who share the same commitment to non-violence as the Amish -- be in that database?
Why haven't groups who've actually practiced terrorism -- the clinic bombers and the lynchers and the gay beaters -- been tracked?
Because they aren't liberals and they aren't protesting the war. It's that simple. When Bush said, "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists," he apparently meant it literally. If you oppose this war, you are a terrorist.
We're assured that Bush only wants to use wiretaps on terrorist suspects. Only terrorist suspects will be picked up and taken off to be tortured. Only terrorist suspects will be denied Habeus Corpus.
The problem is, if you don't like the war, you're a terrorist supect.
Feel safer now?
Technorati tags: politics; surveillance; ACLU; NSA; the Pentagon thinks antiwar protesters are potential terrorists and tracks them in the TALON database -- are you in that database?