- The ACLU has released numerous reports of illegal spying.
They include federal, state and local SARs (suspicious activity reporting)
programs that encourage police, intelligence and homeland security officials,
emergency responders, and members of the public to spy on neighbors, reporting
any "suspicious" activities to authorities.
- In an environment of fear, commonplace activities may
be misinterpreted, increasing chances to get innocent people on terrorist
watch lists. As a result, their names and vital information will be in
law enforcement/intelligence data bases, their personal safety and reputations
- Using new intelligence sharing systems like fusion centers
enables easy access of Joint Terrorism Task Forces and the Director of
National Intelligence (DNI) Information Sharing Environment (ISE), as well
as local police-collected information.
- In Terry v. Ohio (1968), the Supreme Court established
"reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity as the standard for
police stops to investigate further. Under Title 28, Part 23 of the Code
of Federal Regulations, law enforcement agencies getting federal funds
"shall collect and maintain criminal intelligence information (on
an individual) only if there is reasonable suspicion (of involvement) in
criminal conduct or activity," and what's collected is relevant.
- SARs, however, threaten civil liberties by encouraging
indiscriminate spying, jeopardizing innocent people unfairly. They're similar
to various Bush administration schemes, including:
- -- a signing statement to the 2006 Postal Accountability
Act giving the president authority to order opening US citizens' mail without
- -- sweeping warrantless wiretapping and other surveillance
in violation of FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), amended
in 2008 to let telecom companies spy on their customers for the government;
- -- Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention
System), encouraging private citizens, including postal employees, to report
"unusual" neighborhood activities;
- -- the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA),
renamed Terrorism Information Awareness to monitor anyone suspected of
terrorism or activities related to it;
- -- the Pentagon's Threat and Local Observation Notice
(TALON) program, amassing a huge data base by domestic spying, done spuriously
against anyone suspected of terrorism; and
- -- the Transportation Security Agency's SPOT program
(Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques), using behavioral detection
officers to identify threats by observing and reporting suspicious behavior
based on unscientific behavioral indicators.
- Policing Free Speech
- On June 29, an ACLU report titled, "Policing Free
Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected
Activity" highlighted the present danger. It also cited the long history
of America's law enforcement agencies illegally spying on US citizens and
obstructing lawful political activity. It "was rampant during the
Cold War under the FBI's COINTELPRO, the CIA's Operation Chaos, and other
programs," continuing now more obtrusively than ever under new names
or none at all.
- As a result, "Law enforcement agencies across America
continue to monitor and harass groups and individuals for....peacefully
exercising their First Amendment rights," eroding and gravely endangered.
- In recent years, federal as well as in at least 33 states
and the District of Columbia, Americans have been surveilled, otherwise
monitored or harassed by police for engaging in marches, protests, organizing,
having "unusual viewpoints, and engag(ing) in normal, innocuous behaviors
such as writing notes or taking photographs in public.
- In the past year, at least four Fushion Center reports
- -- the Virginia Fushion Center's Homegrown Terrorism
- -- the Texas Fushion Center's Prevention Awareness Bulletin;
- -- the Missouri Fushion Center's Document on the Modern
Militia Movement; and
- -- in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth Fushion Center's
Standard Operating Procedures.
- Below is a list of known states where the ACLU found
incidents of political spying unrelated to lawlessness.
- In Alaska, Military Intelligence Spied on Planned Parenthood
and other groups ahead of the 2002 Salt Lake City winter Olympics, and
on Alaskans for Peace and Justice in 2005. In 2007, various groups' cellphone
calls were monitored. These are examples of more widespread, continuing
practices in the state.
- In Arizona, University of Arizona police arrested a student
for "using sidewalk chalk to advertise a protest."
- In California, an FBI agent admitted in court in 2009
that an informant was planted in an Irvine Islamic Center. "Surveillance
has prompted some Muslims to avoid mosques and cut charitable contributions
out of fear of being questioned" or called "extremists."
- LAPD Special Order # 11, dated March 5, 2008 (Los Angeles
police), lists 65 behaviors to report, including First Amendment ones like
using binoculars, taking photos or videos, taking notes, and espousing
- In 2006, the Los Angeles Times got Homeland Security
reports on persons or groups participating in lawful demonstrations, including
anti-war and for animal rights. Protests of various other activist organizations
were also spied on throughout the state. During huge anti-war San Francisco
2002 and 2003 demonstrations, police posed as protesters to monitor crowd
activities. Muslim groups were also surveilled in Los Angeles, San Diego
and elsewhere in the state. Since 9/11, they've unfairly been designated
enemy number one for their faith, many falsely arrested, convicted and
imprisoned for being Muslim at the wrong time in America.
- In Colorado, in 2005, FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force
(JTTF) agents monitored the American Indian Movement, as well as peace
and environmental groups on suspicions of "domestic terrorism."
In 2003, law enforcement agents infiltrated the Rocky Mountain Peace and
Justice Center and other peace and social justice groups.
- In Colorado Springs, in 2002, police collected names
and license plate numbers of environmental and conservationist groups engaging
in peaceful demonstrations. In 2002, a pro-Palestinian Denver rally was
monitored as well as others for suspected "anarchists" and eight
categories of "extremists" for peace. In addition, for environmental
and animal rights issues, and justice for Black Americans.
- FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agents also spied on Food
Not Bombs, a Colorado group providing free vegetarian food to hungry people
and engaging in protests against war and poverty - considered "terrorism"
today in America, making nonviolent activists vulnerable, especially if
minorities or Muslims.
- In Hartford, Connecticut, police arrested an activist
for photographing Governor Jodi Rell at a public event because information
on his blog expressed criticism.
- In Florida, peace activists were placed on a government
watchlist for distributing information about conscientious objection to
military recruiters and interested civilians. The Defense Department listed
a Broward County Anti-War Coalition in a TALON database for protesting
at a Florida air and sea show.
- In Georgia, Georgia State University Students for Peace
and Justice were included in the same database. Post-9/11, School of the
Americas (SOA) Watch peaceful protests and civil disobedience acts were
reclassified from "Routine" to "Priority," subject
to "Counterrorism" monitoring. In DeKalb County, a vegetarian
activist was arrested for writing down the license plate number of a DHS
agent who monitored her peaceful protesting. The state FBI Field Intelligence
Group lists Green Party members as potential eco-terrorists for supporting
environmental and animal rights.
- In Idaho, members of the Progressive Student Alliance,
a non-partisan group focusing on social, economic, gender, and environmental
justice were questioned by FBI agents for boycotting TACO Bell to protest
conditions of Immokalee workers in Florida.
- In Illinois, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
is listed in the Defense Department's TALON database for planning protests
at a Springfield recruiting center. In Chicago, police conducted a three-day
manhunt for a "Middle Eastern" man in traditional clothing after
being notified that a passenger on a bus he was riding on said he was clicking
a hand counter on board. An investigation discovered he used it to keep
track of his daily prayers, a common Muslim practice.
- In Indianapolis, Indiana, at the 2003 National Governors
Association (NGA) meeting, police confronted nonviolent demonstrators disruptively,
several suing on First Amendment grounds. On February 9, 2005, the US District
Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled in favor of protestors,
a rare good guys victory.
- In Iowa, in February 2004, four Drake University peace
activists got federal grand jury subpoenas relating to a National Lawyers
Guild campus seminar on nonviolent civil disobedience. In Iowa City, FBI
and local authorities infiltrated peace groups ahead of the Republican
National Convention to preemptively disrupt them.
- In Kansas, police train maintenance staff of apartment
complexes, as well as motels and storage facilities to watch for "printed
terrorist materials and propaganda."
- In Kentucky, a protestant minister was placed on an FBI
watch list for ordering books online about Islam. In fall 2004, he was
detained by Canadian border officials while trying to enter the country
for sightseeing. He'd never been arrested, charged with a crime, or participated
in a protest.
- In Louisiana, the Defense Department classified Veterans
for Peace as a threat to DOD personnel after participating in a New Orleans
- In Maine, FBI agents intercepted Veterans for Peace,
Pax Christi Maine, the Maine Coalition for Peace & Justice and other
activist groups' emails pertaining to planned protests at the Brunswick
Naval Air Show and against the christening of an Arleigh Burke Class destroyer.
- In Maryland, state police spied on more than 30 activist
groups, mostly peace organizations and anti-death penalty advocates, sharing
information with local authorities and the FBI.
- In Massachusetts, the FBI recruited a University of Massachusetts
police officer to work several days a week for its Anti-Terrorism Task
Force (ATTF). Undercover Harvard University police were caught photographing
people at a peaceful protest. A university spokesman refused comment about
the school's affiliation with intelligence gathering or the targeting of
- The state's ACLU also learned that the Commonwealth Fusion
Center's "Standard Operating Procedures" let undercover police
gather intelligence at public meetings even when there's no suspicion of
- In Michigan, in April 2009, the Council of Islamic Organizations
of Michigan wrote Attorney General Eric Holder after mosques and Muslim
groups reported their members being asked to spy on others coming there.
- In Minnesota, FBI agents tried to get an arrested University
of Minnesota student to go undercover at "vegan pot-lucks" to
spy on groups organizing protests. The weekend before the start of the
2008 Republican National Convention, local and federal authorities conducted
preemptive raids and arrests against activist groups to disrupt their ability
to stage protests. After it began, mass arrests followed. Hundreds were
targeted violently for their nonviolent demonstrations.
- In Missouri, the February Fushion Center report on "the
modern militia movement" claimed members usually support presidential
candidates Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr.
- In New Jersey, in 2004, the ACLU made public requests
to the state's 50 largest municipalities for documents disclosing criteria
and other information used to identify individuals as "potential threat
elements." Eight refused saying they're exempt under New Jersey's
Open Public Records Act.
- In New Mexico, Veterans for Peace was placed in the Defense
Department's database, saying its protests "could become violent."
In March 2003, Albuquerque police attended anti-war protest organizing
meetings undercover to gather intelligence on participants.
- In New York, Pentagon spies monitored a Veterans for
Peace lecture. The Defense Department also placed the War Resisters League
in its TALON database, saying CODEPINK and United for Peace and Justice
operate the same way. Ahead of the 2004 state Republican National Convention,
undercover NYPD officers monitored activists nationwide, infiltrating hundreds
of groups planning to attend protests.
- A Syracuse University Muslim-American student was prevented
by Veterans Affairs police from photographing flags in front of a VA building
as part of a class assignment. After interrogation, her digital photos
- In North Carolina, a honorably discharged army veteran
married to an active duty spouse was placed under Pentagon surveillance
for participating in a Fort Bragg protest led by veterans and military
families. Another planned protest was listed in TALON's database even though
determined to be peaceful and unthreatening.
- In Ohio, a "Stop the War NOW!" protest was
listed in the TALON database as a potential terrorist threat. Its purpose
was to read names of war dead in front of the Akron federal building and
a military recruiting station.
- In Oregon, in April 2005, Portland became the first US
city to withdraw from JTTF law enforcement participation. In May 2008,
a Federal Protective Service officer went undercover against a peaceful
anti-pesticide Eugene rally. City police made one arrest.
- In Pennsylvania, FBI agents investigated Thomas Merton
Center for Peace & Justice gatherings because the group opposed the
Iraq war. An FBI memo called TMC "a left-wing organization advocating,
among many political causes, pacifism."
- A Penn State University student was arrested in Philadelphia
for photographing police activity in his neighborhood with a cell phone
camera. Threats but no charges against him included conspiracy, impeding
police and obstruction of justice.
- In Pittsburgh, the US Department of Energy revoked the
security clearance of a Muslim American employee with 18 years of service
for making critical public comments about the FBI's treatment of people
of his faith.
- In Rhode Island, the Community Coalition for Peace was
placed in the TALON database for protesting outside a National Guard recruitment
station. Comments about the group said commanders and staff were alerted
"to (their) potential terrorist activity" and other "force
- In Texas, in February 2009, a DHS-supported North Central
Texas Fusion System intelligence bulletin described a purported conspiracy
between Muslim civil rights organizations, lobbying groups, anti-war activists,
a former congresswoman, US Treasury Department, and hip hop bands. In Austin,
a counter-recruitment/anti-war recruitment station protest was listed in
the TALON database. In addition, an Al-Jazeera television crew was prevented
from filming on a public road over a mile from a nuclear power plant. Extensive
background checks were conducted uncovering "no criminal history or
- In Utah, the US Joint Forces Command liaison and FBI
Olympic Intelligence Center collected and disseminated information on Planned
Parenthood and National Alliance members, regarding their involvement in
2002 Olympics protests and literature distributions.
- In Virginia, the state Fushion Center's March 2008 terrorism
threat assessment called state universities and colleges "nodes for
radicalization." It also described the "diversity" surrounding
a Virginia military base and black colleges as possible security threats.
One man was arrested, but not charged, for videotaping the Chesapeake Bay
- In Washington, a civilian Fort Lewis Force Protection
employee posed undercover as an anarchist to participate in Olympia Port
Militarization Resistance activities from 2007 - 2009. In addition, police
stopped a University of Washington Associate Fine Arts Professor for photographing
power lines as part of a school project. She was searched, handcuffed,
and held in a police car for 30 minutes before being released, police saying
FBI agents would contact her about the incident.
- An Evergreen State College student was arrested en route
to a Port of Grays Harbor anti-war protest, police acknowledging he and
others had been watched, calling them "known anarchists." No
charges were filed.
- In Washington, DC, a City Council committee said Metropolitan
Police used undercover officers to infiltrate protest groups without evidence
of wrongdoing. Making arrests, they also preemptively prevented demonstrations,
denying participants free expression and assembly rights.
- DHS also tracked a DC Anti-War Network's protest plans,
informed the Maryland state police who'd labeled the activists terrorists.
In October 2003, the FBI's Intelligence Bulletin No. 89 titled, "Tactics
Used During Protests and Demonstrations," included Internet recruitment
activity, fund raising, false documentation to access secure facilities,
marches, banners, sit-ins, vandalism, physical harassment, and trespassing.
No effort was made to distinguish between protected speech and potential
- In Wisconsin, a DHS Intelligence official assigned to
the Statewide Information Center produced a "threat assessment"
with regard to a February 2009 rally involving local pro-and anti-choice
groups even though neither posed a domestic threat.
- Nationally, DHS reports warn that "right-wing extremists"
might recruit and radicalize "disgruntled military veterans."
DHS's Contractor Eco-Terrorism Report called the Sierra Club, Humane Society,
Audubon Society, and similar groups "mainstream organizations with
known or possible links to eco-terrorism."
- DHS' "Protective Intelligence Bulletin designated
CODEPINK, Iraq Pledge of Resistance and DAWN groups "civil activist
and extremist," planning dozens of nationwide anti-war demonstrations.
The FBI lists the Green Party as a potential Eco-Terrorist target. In October,
DHS sent a report titled, "Nation of Islam: Uncertain Leadership Succession
Poses Risks" to hundreds of federal officials despite Department guidelines
designating the files for destruction because the group's assessment lasted
over 180 days without evidence of wrongdoing uncovered.
- A Final Comment
- For many decades, and especially post-9/11, illegal spying
on Americans has persisted, disrupting their speech, assembly, and other
freedoms. They're fast eroding as the nation slips further toward repression,
using a homeland police state apparatus against individuals or groups opposing
the destruction of their constitutionally protected rights more than ever
- In a climate of fear and intimidation, national security
concerns are trampling core legal principles, the rule of law losing out
to war on terror hysteria and unchecked powers. As a result, protected
freedoms are fast eroding, key among them First Amendment rights without
which all others are at risk.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com
and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the
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