Coalition Files FOIA Request on Pentagon Spying on Antiwar Movement

December 16th, 2005 - by admin

Partnership for Civil Justice & National Lawyers Guild – 2005-12-16 09:41:49

Coalition Files FOIA Request on Pentagon Spying on Antiwar Movement
Partnership for Civil Justice & National Lawyers Guild

WASHINGTON, DC (December 15, 2005) — The Partnership for Civil Justice, a civil rights litigation firm, today filed a Freedom of Information Request, on behalf of the antiwar group the ANSWER Coalition, and also on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, after learning that the Department of Defense (DOD) is maintaining a database of identified “threats” that includes information on protests and political activists who oppose the war.

Defense officials responded to reports of the database on Tuesday by saying that the Pentagon has a right to maintain information to help protect military installations. One of the database listings was a major anti-war protest on March 19, 2005 identified in the Pentagon’s records as taking place at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles.

A confidential DOD document, according to NBC News, indicates in-depth domestic surveillance such as the specific monitoring of vehicles and specific individuals from one protest to another. The database lists 1,500 “suspicious incidents” around the country over a 10-month period, including four dozen anti-war meetings or protests.

The Partnership for Civil Justice has for years filed litigation challenging unlawful government tactics that infringe on the First Amendment rights of protesters, including peace activists and war opponents. Free speech is now considered a threat by the Pentagon. The exposure of the “threat incident” database containing information on protests and political activists makes clear that the US military is spying on civilians in the United States who oppose the war in Iraq and US militarism.

The Department of Defense’s assertion that it is keeping this list to protect military bases is belied by its collecting and maintaining information on the anti-war protest in downtown Los Angeles as well as activities on campuses and organizing meetings across the country.

The “threat” that the Pentagon is protecting against is a powerful mass movement of opposition to the US war drive, said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, attorney and co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice and co-chair of the NLG Mass Defense Committee.

The FOIA request asks for information maintained by the Pentagon including in its Talon database system on protests and political activists. The request includes data and documents relating to the Hollywood and Vine demonstration, the ANSWER Coalition which organized the March 19, 2005 Los Angeles anti-war demonstration, and the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive bar association that has worked to defend the rights of protestors and to challenge illegal and unconstitutional police practices.

“The Pentagon and other government agencies are routinely violating the First Amendment rights of people in the United States who are coming together to demand an end to the criminal war and occupation in Iraq. No amount of government intimidation can stop the antiwar movement, now that opposition to the war has become a majority sentiment,” stated Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition.

The Partnership’s litigation has successfully challenged illegal domestic spying and unconstitutional government policies designed to discourage lawful dissent. The Partnership for Civil Justice also on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, first exposed the use of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces against political dissenters, and revealed that the District of Columbia police department has been carrying out an illegal ongoing domestic spying operation in which officers are sent on long-term assignments to pose as political activists. PCJ’s First Amendment litigation has been featured on NOW with Bill Moyers and in the movie Unconstitutional.

Founded in 1937 as the first racially integrated national bar association, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States, with more than 200 chapters.

The Guild has a long history of representing individuals who the government has deemed a threat to national security. Guild members defended FBI-targeted individuals and helped expose illegal FBI and CIA surveillance, infiltration and disruption tactics (COINTELPRO) that the U.S. Senate AChurch Commission@ hearings detailed in 1975-76 and which led to enactment of the Freedom of Information Act and other specific limitations on federal investigative power.

Click here to see the FOIA request.

Pentagon Database on US Citizens Labels Protests ‘Suspicious’
Walter Pincus / Washington Post

( December 15, 2005) — Pentagon officials said yesterday they had ordered a review of a program aimed at countering terrorist attacks that had compiled information about U.S. citizens, after reports that the database included information on peace protesters and others whose activities posed no threat and should not have been kept on file.

The move followed an NBC News report Tuesday disclosing that a sample of about 1,500 “suspicious incidents” listed in the database included four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, some aimed at military recruiting.

Although officials defended the Pentagon’s interest in gathering information about possible threats to military bases and troops, one senior official acknowledged that a preliminary review of the database indicated that it had not been correctly maintained.

“On the surface, it looks like things in the database that were determined not to be viable threats were never deleted but should have been,” the official said. “You can also make the argument that these things should never have been put in the database in the first place until they were confirmed as threats.”

The program, known as Talon, compiles unconfirmed reports of suspected threats to defense facilities. It is part of a broader effort by the Pentagon to gather counterterrorism intelligence within the United States, which has prompted concern from civil liberties activists and members of Congress in recent weeks.

To some, the Pentagon’s current efforts recall the Vietnam War era, when defense officials spied on anti-war groups and peace activists. Congressional hearings in the 1970s subsequently led to strict limits on the kinds of information that the military can collect about activities and people inside the United States.

The review of the program, ordered by Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone, will focus on whether officials broke those rules, a Pentagon statement said. The regulations require that any information that is “not validated as threatening must be removed from the TALON system in less than 90 days,” it said.

The Pentagon stopped short of officially acknowledging fault but strongly implied some information had been mishandled. “There is nothing more important to the US military than the trust and goodwill of the American people,” said the statement. “The Department of Defense . . . views with the greatest concern any potential violation of the strict DoD policy governing authorized counter-intelligence efforts.”

The Talon database — and several affiliated programs — has been described by officials as a sort of neighborhood watch for the military, an important tool in trying to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the military.

Under the programs, civilians and military personnel at defense installations are encouraged to file reports if they believe they have come across people or information that could be part of a terrorist plot or threat, either at home or abroad. The Talon reports are fed into a database managed by the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, a three-year-old Pentagon agency whose budget and size are classified.

The Talon reports — the number is classified, officials said — can consist of “raw information” that “may or may not be related to an actual threat, and its very nature may be fragmented and incomplete,” according to a 2003 memo signed by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.

Cambone’s review came one day after a sample of the CIFA database, containing reports of 1,519 “suspicious incidents” between July 2004 and May 2005, was disclosed first by NBC News, and by William M. Arkin, a former military intelligence officer and author, on his blog Early Warning.

Arkin said he obtained the information, which included a list of entries in the CIFA database, from a military source. The database document included references to incidents in several categories that were deemed suspicious.

Dozens of them involved anti-war and anti-recruiting protests by civilians dating to 2004. A Feb. 5, 2005, Talon report described as a “threat” the planned protest against recruiting at New York University by Army Judge Advocate General personnel. Another entry, concerning Feb. 14, 2005, involved a demonstration planned outside the gates of the base at Fort Collins, Colo.

One refers to a July 3, 2004, “surveillance” report of “suspicious activity by US persons … affiliated with radical Moslems” in Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Another category of reports involved missing identification cards and uniforms of military personnel, which pose threats because they can be used to gain illegal access to Pentagon facilities. Other reports dealt with “test of security,” such as when someone drives up to the gate of a military facility or takes photographs or shoots videotape.

There have been no congressional hearings on the Defense Department’s growing involvement in domestic intelligence collection, but Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, began raising questions about CIFA’s programs after recent articles in The Washington Post.

“CIFA needs to be a tightly controlled program,” Harman said yesterday, after she and intelligence committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) met privately with Cambone on Capitol Hill. She would not discuss the meeting.

Staff writer Bradley Graham contributed to this report.

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