Targets of the Surveillance System: Activists

Who else is under suspicion in the 21st century surveillance state? Leaked information and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits have revealed that in one sense little has changed since the days of COINTELPRO. Now, as then, peaceful, protected First Amendment activity is regarded as a threat (“terrorism-related,” in today’s parlance). The same kind of groups that were infiltrated and spied on by the FBI, NSA, CIA and Department of Defense in the 1960s and 70s are featuring in JTTF investigations and law enforcement, military and fusion center data banks.

Peace groups are being targeted by federal, state and local agencies. It was revealed late in 2005 that the Department of Defense had a secret TALON (“Threat and Local Observation Notice”) database maintained by the Counterintelligence Field Activity agency (CIFA). It contained information about anti-war protests around the country, classified as “potential terrorist activity.” Intelligence oversight reports indicate that the Pentagon monitored and shared intelligence on groups ranging from Alaskans for Peace and Justice, to Planned Parenthood, and used Army Signals Intelligence in Louisiana to intercept civilian cell phone conversations. Other TALON documents show that meetings were sometimes infiltrated and tips about planning sessions for anti-war protests and demonstrations outside military recruiting stations were widely shared among partner agencies. Although CIFA was disbanded after the extent of its spying was revealed, the TALON database has been preserved and is expected to be part of a new repository of information housed at the Pentagon’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHIC).

Watch video of a DemocracyNow! report on military spying with former FBI agent Mike German, Washington state activist Brendan Dunn and others

Peace groups share space in surveillance databases alongside Muslim groups, which, in the North Central Texas Fusion Center, were listed as fostering an “environment for terrorist groups to flourish” without any evidence being given. Also appearing in databases are environmental groups, animal rights groups, student groups, anti-death penalty organizations, the Nation of Islam and “Black Extremists.” The Virginia Fusion Center cited various historically Black colleges and universities as potential “radicalization nodes” for terrorists.

By 2005, the ACLU had discovered through its Freedom of Information Act requests that the FBI had compiled at least 1,173 pages of information on the organization. 

In his July 20, 2005 Boston Globe column, Robert Kuttner wrote:

The American Civil Liberties Union, the one organization whose entire purpose is to defend rights, finds that the FBI has assembled more than 1,000 pages of files on it as a possible security risk. These files, of course, are classified, in the name of national security. Orwell, meet Kafka. I’m donating the fee for this column to the ACLU, and everyone who cares about liberty should join in.

Shockingly, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) instructed its people to report on a women's gathering hosted by Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire at the governor's mansion. 

In addition to groups, digital files are being maintained on a wide range of individuals. Files that have been made public are frequently riddled with errors. For instance, the Maryland State Police, which shares information with the state’s fusion center and is part of a Joint Terrorism Task Force, has kept tabs on Bette Hoover, a Quaker anti-war activist. This retired nurse and grandmother of two was listed as being a member of organizations she never belonged to – PETA, Ruckus – and placed at demonstrations she had never attended.

Given the dimensions of the secretive “echo chamber” in which this flawed information is disseminated and stored, how can the record ever be set straight?


Check out this video: 

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube's privacy statement on their website and Google's privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU's privacy statement, click here.

Mass Focus: Advocating for Human Rights is Suspicious?

In March 2008, this man photographed people at a peaceful protest across the street from Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After a demonstrator began taking pictures of him, he confronted her and demanded she hand over her camera. When she refused to do so, she and another demonstrator were arrested. The man turned out to be an undercover police officer with the Harvard University Police Department who was taking pictures for “intelligence gathering” purposes.

The ACLU of Massachusetts is trying to find out how widespread spying on protected First Amendment activity is in the Commonwealth. We know from the leaked “Preventive Intelligence Bulletin” from the Intelligence Branch, Threat Management Division of the Department of Homeland Security that “activities of various civil activists and extremists groups” have been under surveillance here in Massachusetts, including an event organized in Boston on March 18, 2006 on the topic “stop the violence, stop the war at home and abroad.”

Please contact us if you think your Massachusetts group or protest has been spied on!

Sign up for email alerts // Contact us

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer