CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A federal appeals court in Cincinnati today will be the site of a legal showdown between Bush Administration and ACLU lawyers over the constitutionality of the NSA's now-abandoned warrantless eavesdropping program. But other government documents reveal the Pentagon monitored recent peace demonstrations, including an Akron protest in 2005 and another at Kent State University.
The ACLU obtained the records under the Freedom of Information Act last year via a U.S. District Court lawsuit in Pennsylvania. The documents contain summarized information about 186 "anti-military protests or demonstrations in the U.S." The Akron rally was described in a Pentagon database as possibly affiliated with terrorism. -- even though the plan was merely to read names of slain American troops.
''Protests against the war in Iraq were a common trigger for TALON reporting," the ACLU said. "For example, a protest entitled 'Stop the War NOW!' was reported as a potential terrorist threat in a March 2005 TALON. The TALON describes the protest, aimed at a military recruiting station and federal building in Akron, Ohio, as including a rally, march and "Reading of Names of War Dead."
A Kent State University event scheduled by Veterans For Peace also was monitored by the Pentagon even though the St. Louis-based organization is described as a "peaceful anti-war/anti-military organization." VFP does believe that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should be impeached for the war. Could that have made the group a target of monitoring?
The ACLU considers the government's efforts to track anti-war activities part of a broader infringement on personal liberty. In others words, in a free society it is not the business of the military or spy agencies to poke around gathering data about citizens and lawful activities.
"The Pentagon's misuse of the TALON database must be viewed in the wider context of increased government surveillance," the ACLU said. "With the help of phone companies, the National Security Agency has been tapping phones and reading e-mail without a warrant. The FBI has gathered information about peace activists, and recruited confidential informants inside groups like Greenpeace and PETA. All of these actions are part of a broad pattern of the executive branch using "national security" as an excuse for encroaching on the privacy and free speech rights of Americans without adequate oversight."
A complete version of the ACLU's report is HERE. It is not clear yet how much of an airing the NSA eavesdropping will receive before the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today. Some legal strategists in the Justice Department contend the case in moot, and the government has tried to cloak the dispute in a national security mantle.