At least 186 antiwar protests in the United States
have been monitored by the Pentagon's domestic surveillance program, according
to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which also
found that the Defense Department collected more than 2,800 reports involving
Americans in a single anti-terrorism database.
The documents were obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act
request filed last February.
"It cannot be an accident or coincidence that nearly 200 antiwar protests ended
up in a Pentagon threat database," Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the
in a statement. "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 internal Defense Department documents show it is monitoring the activities
of a wide swath of peace groups, including Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans
Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Code Pink, the American Friends
Service Committee, the War Resisters League, and the umbrella group United for
Peace and Justice, which is spearheading what organizers hope will be a massive
march on Washington this Saturday.
"This might have a chilling effect on some groups," United
for Peace and Justice's Leslie Cagan told OneWorld, "particularly among
high-risk communities like immigrants who don't have their papers yet and US
citizens or people with green cards who are of Muslim or South Asian or Middle
Eastern descent. They've already been targeted by the government and they might
feel like, with this, it's just too dangerous to come out and protest."
"It seems pretty par for the course," said Daniel Fearn of the group Veterans
for Peace. The eight-year Marine Corps veteran is helping to organize an
event in Washington Thursday ahead of the larger march January 27th.
"What do you expect from an administration that thinks torture is an accurate
way to get accurate information?" he said. "It's the same thought process that
says 'we're going to get good information from torturing somebody' – that same
flawed process leads to spying on peace activists."
At Thursday's event in Washington, Fearn said veterans will read sections of
the Constitution they believe the Bush administration is violating as it prosecutes
the war in Iraq.
Fearn said veterans will also speak out against unwarranted surveillance and
torture and argue for the repeal of laws they believe violate the Constitution,
such as the Military
Commissions Act, which prescribes secret tribunals for terrorism suspects.
The event appears similar to those the Pentagon has kept tabs on, according
to the internal documents obtained by the ACLU.
"Veterans for Peace erected an antiwar display the week of 18 April 2005 at
a local university," reads a report on a New Orleans protest from the Pentagon's
Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database. "A local army recruiter
mistook the event as a memorial to fallen service members and arrived to view
According to the TALON report, six individuals, who the report acknowledges
may not have been associated with the Veterans for Peace group, shouted "war
monger" and "baby killer" at the recruiter and a shoving match ensued.
"Veterans for Peace claim to be nonviolent," the report concludes. "This incident
demonstrates a propensity for violence, and the Veterans for Peace should be
viewed as a possible threat to Army and DoD (Defense Department) personnel."
For its part, Veterans for Peace describes itself as a non-profit educational
and humanitarian organization committed to non-violence. "We draw on our personal
experiences and perspectives gained as veterans to raise public awareness of
the true costs and consequences of militarism and war – and to seek peaceful,
effective alternatives," the group's Web site reads.
In response to the documents' release, Pentagon officials said the material
on antiwar groups should not have been collected.
"I don't want it, we shouldn't have had it, not interested in it," Daniel Baur,
the acting director of the Defense Department's counterintelligence field activity
unit, told the New York Times. "I don't want to deal with it."
Baur told the Times his agency is no longer monitoring peace groups.
Experts on government spying caution not to take the Pentagon at its word,
however. The ACLU notes the Defense Department documents reveal that other government
agencies were also involved in the spying.
In one report, a Department of Homeland Security agent warned after a peaceful
protest by the War Resisters League at a military recruiting station that the
group may favor "civil disobedience and vandalism." The report indicates that
the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces in Atlanta and New York were briefed on
"We have only the Pentagon's word that the errors and misjudgments that led
to widespread surveillance of US citizens have been corrected," the ACLU said
in a statement last week.
"Congress should not let this president off the hook for inappropriate surveillance
by the Pentagon," the group's Caroline Fredrickson said. "Americans must once
again be confident we can exercise our constitutionally protected right to protest
without becoming the subject of a secret government file."