Dems want to see citizen-monitoring database
Pentagon has been keeping tabs on groups perceived as security threat
MSNBC | November 23, 2006
A year ago, an NBC News investigation revealed the existence of a secret Pentagon database that included information on antiwar protests and American peace activists.
Now, newly disclosed documents reveal new details on who was targeted and which other government agencies may have helped monitor Americans. At universities across the country, an antiwar group called Veterans for Peace has staged protests by setting up crosses for soldiers killed in Iraq. In New Mexico last year, the local paper described the event as a display of honor.
But a previously secret Pentagon intelligence report labeled that same event a "threat to military installations." The report lists the group's upcoming events and warns that while it's a "peaceful organization," there is potential that "future protest could become violent."
"No, we are not a threat to military installations," says Michael McPhearson, the leader of Veterans for Peace and a former Army captain whose son recently returned from Iraq. "We are not a threat to military installations. We're not trying to blow up anything or anything of that nature.
"It angers me that the rights I'm supposed to be protecting I can't exercise without the government looking at me and calling me the enemy," McPhearson says.
Pentagon documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union provide new details on how even Quakers and churches came to be labeled "threats" worthy of the attention of the military.
"What's clear is that there's a proliferation of surveillance and targeting of Americans who have done nothing wrong, other than disagree with the government," Anthony Romero says. The documents also suggest for the first time that agents of the Department of Homeland Security played a role in monitoring antiwar activities. A DHS spokesman says agents merely disseminated public information about public events that could impact federal buildings.
The Pentagon admits it made a mistake in collecting information on 186 antiwar protests but claims the problem has been fixed.
That isn't good enough for Senate Democrats.
"I fully intend to ask what's in those databanks, because many of them go way beyond any legitimate needs for our security," says Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Congress wants to know not just what data was collected, but why and how it was to be used.
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