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Document Confirms That RI Peace Protest Was Entered in Federal Terrorism Database

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

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In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and lawsuit filed earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today announced it had received documentation confirming that federal officials entered information about a local peaceful protest into a terrorism database.

At the time of the ACLU’s FOIA request, news reports indicated that the Pentagon had gathered and shared political surveillance data with other government agencies through its Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database. The TALON program was initiated by former Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in 2003, purportedly to track groups and individuals with possible links to terrorism. However, the media reports indicated that the database included information about peaceful protests, including one held by the R.I. Community Coalition for Peace (RICCP) in December 2004 in front of the National Guard recruiting station in downtown Providence. Today the ACLU received from the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command a two-page document confirming that.

The TALON document, dated December 10, 2004, begins by stating that it is being provided “only to alert commanders and staff to potential terrorist activity or apprise them of other force protection issues.” The memo explains that “an emerging RI coalition in opposition to the war in Iraq will hold a picketing action in front of a RI National Guard Recruitment Station” on “13 Dec 04 from 1630 to 1800.” The memo adds that the goal of the protest is “to create an awareness of an organized, action oriented anti-war movement in Providence.”

The “incident type” is labeled “specific threats,” and the source of the warning is described as “a special agent of a federal law enforcement agency.” The memo adds that the source apparently obtained the information from a “posting on an Internet bulletin board.”

The Affiliate had filed the FOIA request in February on behalf of RICCP and three other peace groups. After four months passed without the release of any documents by federal officials, the RI ACLU, in conjunction with the National ACLU, sued the Department of Defense to force it to turn over any documents relating to surveillance of the groups. The DOD agreed to settle the lawsuit by expediting the FOIA requests, leading to today’s disclosure. The December memo was the only document disclosed.

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “It is appalling to read a government memo that designates RICCP’s planned picketing as ‘potential terrorist activity.’ Release of this memo from the TALON database only confirms that the Bush Administration’s so-called war on terrorism has become a war on American freedoms.” Nicholas Schmader, a representative of the RICCP, added: “When a federal agency uses the word ‘terrorists’ to refer to ordinary citizens exercising democracy, then both outrage and active defiance are in order. This FOIA release will serve to make even more people aware that fear is being intentionally used to destroy our freedoms.”

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