Pentagon Spied on Concerned Peace Moms in Atlanta
(APN) ATLANTA–“Don’t they have anything to do? I am just a mom of a teenage son. I just don’t want my son or anyone else go to a stupid war,” Susan Keith told Atlanta Progressive News.
Last week, Keith learned the Pentagon has been spying on her protests against public schools participating in military recruitment.
“I think it is a big waste of our money and [the government’s] time to be spying on citizens,” Keith said.
She said she doesn’t know why the government would see their protest as a threat, “unless they thought we were going to do some terrorist activity, but we’re the Peace coalition.”
On December 14th, 2005, NBC released a report concerning a secret 400 page Pentagon document they obtained listing more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country. In a recent span of 10 months, these incidents had all been under surveillance by the Pentagon.
Among the few pages of the database published by NBC–the rest of the pages have not been released–was a meeting and protest held by the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition (GPJC) in Atlanta.
The document listed the organization’s open monthly meeting held on March 28, 2005 as a “threat.”
The meeting took place at the downtown Piedmont Avenue office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization committed to peace, social justice, and humanitarian service.
“This action by the government is a disgrace and a blatant violation of our right to free speech and peaceful assembly as guaranteed by the First Amendment,” wrote Betti Knott, AFSC Southeast Regional Director,” in a prepared statement obtained by Atlanta Progressive News. “The people of the United States have a fundamental right to organize and speak out about relevant issues.”
The meeting included a discussion the then-upcoming visit of Michael Hoffman, Founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War. It also included planning for a protest that took place April 8.
Ann Mauney and Susan Keith, both members of the coalition, told Atlanta Progressive News they suspect the surveillance took place over the Internet through reading the meetings minutes that were emailed out following their meetings.
This speculation stems from the fact that GPJC does not publish agendas or notify the members of the coalition what will be discussed in advance of the meeting, so any knowledge of the nature of the meeting would have to be gathered after the fact, Keith and Mauney said.
Neither Keith nor Mauney believe spies actually attended the meeting or the protest discussed at the meeting.
Another protest deemed “suspicious” by the government was a protest by concerned parents of public school students. The parents were worried about local public schools’ complicity in military recruitment. Many schools release the names of students to military recruiters without what many local parents believe would be adequate notification or opt-out provisions.
For earlier APN reporting on the concerned parents’ counter-recruitment protests, please see: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/pages/12/index.htm
On the day of one of the protests, Michael Hoffman had spoken to a local group of high school students at Decatur High about why they should consider opting out of having their names released to recruiters.
After Hoffman spoke, a group of about 30 protesters gathered to protest outside a military recruitment office on Ponce De Leon Avenue in Atlanta.
Keith who was present at both the meeting and the protest said that she did not see any reason the government would want to spy on the coalition’s meeting and protest.
The group protested at that location weekly for 3-4 months and then for 2 months on Memorial Drive.
Mauney and Keith both speculated that the reason this particular protest might have been monitored may be Hoffman’s involvement.
The GPJC has now called for an end to such surveillance.
The NBC report of the surveillance has garnered much attention in California, where at least two members of US Congress and the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) have expressed outrage. The participation of UCSC Administration in the public outcry is noteworthy given its notorious suppression of recent student protests, especially the violent use of riot police in April 2005.
US Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) told the Santa Cruz Sentinel he was “appalled” at the recent disclosures.
“I write to ask that you begin an immediate investigation of recent allegations that the Department of Defense (DOD) has developed and maintains a database of information on United States persons, apparently collected in violation of DOD regulations and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA),” US Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) wrote in a December 30, 2005, letter to Acting Inspector General of the DOD, Mr. Thomas F. Gimble.
“I am concerned that the information collected and retained by DOD may have been collected in violation of its own regulations and in violation of FISA. The reports do not indicate that the information DOD has collected on U.S. persons has been obtained pursuant to a court order or that it is publicly available information. If true, these activities could violate FISA’s general stipulation that searches of U.S. persons, whether electronic or physical, be performed pursuant to a court-ordered warrant upon a determination of probable cause,” Rep. Lofgren wrote.
“This could also violate FISA’s stipulation that DOD’s surveillance and search activities collect foreign intelligence information, rather than target domestic speech activities protected by the First Amendment. FISA’s provisions authorize surveillance and searches for the gathering specifically of foreign intelligence information, not any information that DOD decides to collect. FISA’s provisions also make clear that probable cause to conduct surveillance or searches of a U.S. person cannot rest solely on that person’s activities protected by the First Amendment. If the reports are accurate, it appears that DOD may have specifically targeted U.S. persons based upon their activities protected by the First Amendment,” Lofgren wrote.
Lofgren has requested a full report from the DOD answering detailed questions on the matter by January 31, 2006.
Sarah Epting is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale, Editor of Atlanta Progressive News.