Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pentagon spying on Americans

MSNBC has a piece on this topic. Back when the Patriot Act was first debated one of the concerns of most people was that the FBI would once again begin building portfolios on people that had not run afoul of the law. We were told at the time that our concerns were nostalgic and rooted in a past that no longer existed at the agency. Measures had been taken that would prevent such abuses in the future (to which I replied "Right. They were laws. The same laws you are attempting to repeal with this so-called Patriot Act which is not much more than a law that sanctions government's authority over the people the government is supposed to represent"). Now, it seems, that those measures certainly are not in place and it's the Pentagon that's doing the spying.

The DOD database obtained by NBC News includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center. One “incident” included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes — a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The Fort Lauderdale protest was deemed not to be a credible threat and a column in the database concludes: “US group exercising constitutional rights.” Two-hundred and forty-three other incidents in the database were discounted because they had no connection to the Department of Defense — yet they all remained in the database.

...The military’s penchant for collecting domestic intelligence is disturbing — but familiar — to Christopher Pyle, a former Army intelligence officer.

“Some people never learn,” he says. During the Vietnam War, Pyle blew the whistle on the Defense Department for monitoring and infiltrating anti-war and civil rights protests when he published an article in the Washington Monthly in January 1970.

The public was outraged and a lengthy congressional investigation followed that revealed that the military had conducted investigations on at least 100,000 American citizens. Pyle got more than 100 military agents to testify that they had been ordered to spy on U.S. citizens — many of them anti-war protestors and civil rights advocates. In the wake of the investigations, Pyle helped Congress write a law placing new limits on military spying inside the U.S.

But Pyle, now a professor at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, says some of the information in the database suggests the military may be dangerously close to repeating its past mistakes.

“The documents tell me that military intelligence is back conducting investigations and maintaining records on civilian political activity. The military made promises that it would not do this again,” he says.

Update: Laura Rozen points out that one of the companies contracted to do the spying is one of the ones under investigation in the Randy Cunningham scandle (my note: which is now being linked to Tom Delay).

Also note the post below -- Mitchell Wade's MZM (that would be co-conspirator 2 in the Cunningham case to you and me) is one of the lead companies with a contract for the Pentagon domestic surveillance program, Counter Intelligence Field Activity (CIFA), as Walter Pincus first reported.

Look, that there is a legitimate force-protection rationale for the Pentagon to do some degree of surveillance to protect against violent protests against military facilities or personnel. That was true before September 11th as well. But monitoring peace groups and the activities of anti war protestors who are peaceful, who are not going near military installations, and keeping that data in a database held by the Pentagon -- isn't that a clear violation of the military's own regulations?

This is specifically what Congressional staff have indicated would not happen when they approved increases to the powers of the Pentagon to do domestic surveillance -- and more powers have just been approved -- and they are just flat wrong. As I understand, the new powers for Pentagon domestic surveillance include the military sharing and receiving this information across government agency lines. So the Quaker peace group's information -- suddenly they are being monitored by a lot of people. You can read the database for yourself to see gross examples of abuse here. So, where in the world is Congress? Where is the oversight? Where are the Pentagon's own internal controls? Weren't we supposed to strike some sort of balance between protecting against threats and protecting civil liberties? How in the world do these abuses continue again and again and again?

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