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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 23, 2005

The Pentagon is spying on 'don’t ask' protesters

Washington, D.C.--The United States military spies on American citizens protesting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the war in Iraq, leading to accusations that the government has gone too far in its domestic espionage.

A 400-page Defense Department report on threats to the military that NBC News reported on last week includes 43 listings ranging from protests at military bases and recruitment facilities to an April gay “kiss-in” at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

The Santa Cruz protest was listed as a “credible threat” in the database, as was a November, 2004 gathering at the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Florida, to plan a protest against military recruiting in high schools.

Pentagon officials say that the surveillance is necessary to protect military bases and recruiters, but opponents of the activity are concerned that even if a “suspicious” meeting is found to be benign, it remains in the database, along with information about the people attending the meeting, including descriptions of their vehicles.

The Department of Defense is using vehicle identification as a way of seeing if they can connect protesters to multiple groups, since Pentagon documents saw increased communication between groups via the Internet.

“The Pentagon is supposed to defend the Constitution, not turn it upside down,” said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which advocates on behalf of full inclusion of LGBT people in the military. “Students have a first amendment right to protest and Americans have a right to expect that their government will respect our constitutional right to privacy.”

Osburn pointed to other college protests against “don’t ask, don’t tell” that were listed in the database, including a February one at New York University that “may involve OUTlaws,” the report said.

OUTlaw is the NYU law school’s LGBT student group.

“To suggest that a gay kiss-in is a ‘credible threat’ is absurd, homophobic and irrational,” he noted. “To suggest the Constitution does not apply to groups with views differing with Pentagon policy is chilling.”

He said that the SLDN is filing a Freedom of Information Act request to see if his organization was investigated by the Pentagon.

NBC News interviewed Christopher Pyle, a former Army intelligence officer and current professor at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, who found parallels to another unpopular war: Vietnam.

“Some people never learn,” he said. “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.”

Pyle was referring to Congressional investigations following his disclosure during Vietnam that the military was infiltrating anti-war groups.

According to the NBC News story by Lisa Myers, the Counterintelligence Field Agency, a hitherto almost unknown wing of the government, was told by the Defense Department to create and keep a database of information relating to possible threats against the military.

CIFA now has the capacity to comb through thousands of databases, including regular and classified government data, commercial information and the Internet, to try to find threats to the military in the United States.

“The military has the right to protect its installations, and to protect its recruiting services,” Pyle said. “It does not have the right to maintain extensive files on lawful protests of their recruiting activities or of their base activities.”

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