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ACLU of Rhode Island Seeks Pentagon Files on Peace Groups

Posted: February 01, 2006|Category: Free Speech Category: Privacy

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today filed a federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on behalf of four local peace groups, some of whose lawful activities were monitored by the Pentagon, in order to determine the extent and nature of Pentagon spying in the state. The action is part of a national ACLU effort to uncover details of the Pentagon’s recently-uncovered domestic spying program.

The RI ACLU filed the FOIA request on behalf of the Rhode Island Community Coalition for Peace, the Green Party of Rhode Island, the South Kingstown Justice and Peace Advocacy Group, and the Providence Branch of the International Socialist Organization. The ACLU is seeking the disclosure of all documents maintained by the Department of Defense on the groups, as well as information on whether the records have been shared with other government agencies and how any information about the groups’ activities was obtained. The request also seeks information about any other groups in the state that may have been monitored.

Last month, the RI ACLU learned through news reports that the RI Community Coalition for Peace was listed in the Pentagon’s Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database. The TALON program was initiated by former Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in 2003 to track groups and individuals with possible links to terrorism, but the Pentagon has been collecting information on peaceful activists and monitoring anti-war and anti-military recruiting protests throughout the United States.

Only a handful of documents from the secret Department of Defense database, which includes information on dozens of anti-war meetings and protests across the country over a ten-month period, have been released thus far. One of the items that was released, and that prompted today’s FOIA request, referred to “Protesting and Picketing Planned at a Rhode Island National Guard Recruitment Station” in Providence on December 13, 2004. The memo lists the incident as a “Threat” and its disposition is marked as “Open/Unresolved.” The document further indicates that the military learned of the event three days earlier, but it does not specify from whom the information was obtained. The peaceful anti-war protest that day by the R.I. Community Coalition for Peace consisted of a few dozen peace activists.

It is unknown how many other references to political protests in Rhode Island are contained in the full database, or whether local law enforcement has been involved in forwarding information about political activity to the military. The FOIA request seeks to find that out.

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “As the Bush Administration seeks to clamp down and chill dissent in this country, it is critical for the public to learn just how widespread the Pentagon’s illegal spying in Rhode Island has been. The sooner that government officials understand that the monitoring of First Amendment activity is none of its business, the safer we will be from true threats to our country.” In response to a request from the ACLU to the state’s Congressional delegation, Sen. Jack Reed indicated last month that he would press for an investigation of the Pentagon’s spying activities.

While it would not directly affect spying by federal government agencies, the ACLU’s Brown said this latest revelation confirmed the need for passage of state legislation restricting local police from collecting or maintaining information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of individuals. That bill was introduced in the General Assembly last year, but died in committee.

Following public outcry this month after disclosure of the domestic spying program, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England issued a memorandum on January 13 directing intelligence personnel to receive “refresher training on the policies for collection, retention, dissemination and use of information related to U.S. persons.” The RI ACLU’s FOIA request asks that all responsive information be preserved in order to prevent the destruction of records before the extent of the Pentagon’s spying is revealed.

Today, the national ACLU filed a similar FOIA request on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice and Greenpeace. Other ACLU affiliates are seeking Pentagon files on local groups in Florida, Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania and California. Nationally, the ACLU has exposed and challenged other expanded domestic spying programs as well. Documents requested by the ACLU under previous FOIA requests have revealed that the FBI is using its Joint Terrorism Task Forces to gather extensive information about peaceful organizations such as Greenpeace and Food Not Bombs. Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the National Security Agency for illegally intercepting vast quantities of the international telephone and Internet communications of Americans without court approval.


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