Domestic Spying Rises to Cold War Levels

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released numerous reports of increased government spying on American citizens. Once upon an unhappy time, U.S. law enforcement agencies, from the FBI to local police, had a history of political spying during the Cold War. The ACLU said that the old political spying tendencies are running high again. Individuals and groups are being monitored and harassed for “little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.”

One ACLU report, Policing Free Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity (.pdf), reveals that, in recent years, Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by law enforcement agencies in 33 states plus the District of Columbia. What horrific acts did these Americans commit? Organizing, marching, protesting, supporting unusual viewpoints, and engaging in “normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public.

The map below show states where the ACLU uncovered incidents of political spying:

In California, there were 22 reports of spying. One such example is the Los Angeles Police Department Reporting Policy which included 65 behaviors LAPD officers were required to report. “The list includes such innocuous, clearly subjective, and First Amendment-protected activities as, taking measurements, using binoculars, taking pictures or video footage ‘with no apparent esthetic value,’ drawing diagrams, taking notes, and espousing extremist views.”

13 incidents in Colorado were reported, including one when FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) agents opened “domestic terrorism” investigations after the Colorado American Indian Movement, peace groups, and environmental groups posted notices on websites. The announcements were of an anti-war protest in Colorado Springs and a protest against Columbus Day in Denver.

In Georgia, among seven spying reports the ACLU uncovered, a vegetarian activist was arrested for writing down the license plate of a Department of Homeland Security agent who had been photographing her and others during a peaceful protest outside a Honey Baked Ham store.

In Chicago, Illinois, the FBI JTTF conducted a three-day manhunt searching for a Muslim man due to him clicking a hand counter during a bus ride. The investigation revealed he was using the hand counter to keep track of his daily prayers.

In Maine, the FBI intercepted and stored e-mails planning peaceful protests. In Massachusetts, a “plain-clothes Harvard University detective was caught photographing people at a peaceful protest for ‘intelligence gathering’ purposes. Protesters who then photographed the officer were arrested.” In North Carolina, an honorably discharged U.S. Army woman, whose husband is on active duty, was put under Pentagon surveillance for participating in a protest at Fort Bragg.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, the “Maryland State Police spied on more than 30 activist groups, mostly peace groups and anti-death penalty advocates, and wrongly indentified 53 individual activists and about two dozen organizations as terrorists.” DHS further disseminated e-mails from one of the peace groups.

There are many such surveillance reports on a national level as well. An example is when a DHS contractor reported environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, and the Audubon Society as “mainstream organizations with known or possible links to eco-terrorism.”

An intelligence bulletin, from a DHS-supported North Central Texas Fusion System, was distributed to over 100 different agencies. It described a “purported conspiracy between Muslim civil rights organizations, lobbying groups, the anti-war movement, a former U.S. Congresswoman, the U.S. Treasury Department, and hip hop bands to spread tolerance in the U.S.”

Once you unfortunately land on some kind of watchlist, it’s unlikely you will ever have your name removed. One example was a Kentucky minister who had never been arrested, had never been charged with a crime, and had never participated in a protest. During a sightseeing trip, he was detained by Canadian border officials. The ministered learned he was under federal scrutiny because, immediately after September 11, he ordered books over the Internet about the Islamic religion, like the Koran, to help his congregation better understand that faith.

Does this make you sick or does it make you mad? Does this even slightly sound like America, the land of the free?

Source: Network World


Today the government is spying on Americans in ways the founders of our country never could have imagined. The FBI, federal intelligence agencies, the military, state and local police, private companies, and even firemen and emergency medical technicians are gathering incredible amounts of personal information about ordinary Americans that can be used to construct vast dossiers that can be widely shared with a simple mouse-click through new institutions like Joint Terrorism Task Forces, fusion centers, and public-private partnerships. The fear of terrorism has led to a new era of overzealous police intelligence activity directed, as in the past, against political activists, racial and religious minorities, and immigrants.

This surveillance activity is not directed solely at suspected terrorists and criminals. It’s directed at all of us. Increasingly, the government is engaged in suspicionless surveillance that vacuums up and tracks sensitive information about innocent people. Even more disturbingly, as the government’s surveillance powers have grown more intrusive and more powerful, the restrictions on many of those powers have been weakened or eliminated. And this surveillance often takes place in secret, with little or no oversight by the courts, by legislatures, or by the public.

The erosion of reasonable restrictions on government’s power to collect people’s personal information is putting the privacy and free speech rights of all Americans at risk. The American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates across the country have uncovered and reported on many aspects of this growing domestic surveillance activity over the last several years. Our updated Spy Files website combines the information we’ve collected from Freedom of Information Act requests, ACLU lawsuits and reports, and news accounts so that members of the public can begin to get a comprehensive view of how these networked intelligence activities threaten their civil liberities.

You can navigate the links to get updated information on spying conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the military, intelligence agencies, state and local police, and even private companies. Click here to read about specific spying platforms, such as fusion centers, Joint Terrorism Task Forces and Suspicious Activity Reporting programs.


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