Report Shows Pentagon Surveillance of Students’ Protest Plans

July 17th, 2006 - by admin

Kaitlin Anderson / The Daily Californian – 2006-07-17 23:19:19

Government Monitored Anti-War Group E-Mails

BERKELEY, CA. (July 13, 2006) โ€” Newly surfaced government surveillance reports reveal that the US Department of Defense monitored anti-war and anti-military e-mails sent by UC Berkeley students in April.

The students’ e-mails contained plans to host a campus protest against the war in Iraq and against the presence of military recruiters on campus.

The reports, released on June 15 following a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in January, contained information copied from an e-mail circulated by student group UC Berkeley Stop the War Coalition regarding a protest planned for April 21, 2005 on Sproul Plaza.

Multiple protest e-mails were submitted to the department’s Talon database โ€” which stores information about potential terrorist threats โ€” and were subsequently processed, reviewed and stored, according to the report.

The UC Berkeley coalition planned to protest the presence of campus military recruiters at the annual campus career fair. In March 2005, the ASUC passed a resolution charging recruiters’ presence violates the campus anti-discrimination policy because of the military’s opposition to recruitment of gays and lesbians.

Nothing in the e-mail specifically referenced terrorism or outlined specific plans of the protesters, but the surveillance report stated that there was “a strong potential for a confrontation at this protest given the strong support for anti-war protests and movements in the past.”

“When I saw the report, I thought, ‘What are they talking about?'” said Ehud Appel, a UC Berkeley senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies and a member of the Stop the War Coalition. “They trumped up and exaggerated security concerns that we intended harm.”

The reports, which also included detailed information about anti-war protests copied from student e-mails at UC Santa Cruz, New York University, William Paterson University and Southern Connecticut State University, came from the department’s Talon reporting system.

The Talon reporting system compiles and analyzes information reported as suspicious to help the department avert potential terrorist attacks.

Civilians and department personnel report suspicious activity through a web-based system, and the information is stored in the larger Talon database Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Greg Hicks said in an e-mail.

“The DoD does not do surveillance on student activism,” Hicks said. “We do not monitor student e-mails.”

Hicks said he did not know whether civilian or military personnel provided the information about the protest at UC Berkeley. Hicks said because the e-mails did not contain a foreign terrorist threat nexus, the e-mails were stored in error and have since been removed.

For some, the surveillance reports raise concerns about free speech and privacy rights. “This is a suppression of constitutional rights,” said Rebecca Sawyer, a Servicemembers Legal Defense Network associate. “The federal government has no business peeping through the keyhole of Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Appel said the report references information that was not contained in the e-mails, which he said indicates actions by the department could extend beyond the monitoring of e-mail.

“I don’t know what they were looking for, but that they actually put (the e-mails) through the process, applying scrutiny and resources,” he said. “I find that telling there is some kind of concern for student counter- recruit action.”

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