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ACLU Considers Legal Action Over Spy Document Request By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday February 07, 2006

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is demanding information from the U.S. military about a report of spying on UC students who have protested the Iraq war. 

The organization said it will wait one more week for the requested information to be delivered before deciding to file an administrative appeal or take other legal action about the report of widespread military spying on American anti-Iraq War demonstrations, including those by students at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz. 

The ACLU filed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last Wednesday with the Pentagon, the three armed services, the Department of Defense, and the Defense Intelligence Agency specifically on behalf of UC Santa Cruz Students Against the War and UC Berkeley student members of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition. The request seeks documents related to possible Pentagon monitoring of the groups’ anti-war activities. 

“We’ve asked that the Pentagon and other agencies to handle this with expedited processing, and they have to give us an answer back within 10 days on whether or not they will comply,” said Mark Schlosberg, ACLU of Northern California police practices policy director. “If you don’t get expedited processing, the process could take years. They put you at the back of the line.” 

Schlosberg said his organization is still waiting to get government documents from a FOIA request filed in August 2004. 

The Northern California ACLU request was filed in conjunction with similar requests filed by ACLU affiliates on behalf of several anti-war organizations around the country. 

The requests grew out of a NBC news report in December listing a secret Defense Department document, obtained by the news agency, that contained information on more than 1,500 anti-Iraq war incidents labeled “suspicious” by the military. 

Included in the “suspicions incidents” was an April 20 and 21, 2005, protest against recruiters at UC Berkeley organized by the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition and a similar April 4 and 5, 2005, protest at UC Santa Cruz organized by UC Santa Cruz Students Against the War. 

The Department of Defense document lists the UC Berkeley protest as a “not credible threat” and the UC Santa Cruz protest as a “credible threat.” A note in the Department of Defense document on the UC Berkeley event said that the “protest took place without incident.” 

“We want to know where the information came from about these protests and organizations and what’s being done with it,” the ACLU’s Schlosberg said. 

He added in a prepared statement that “students should be able to express themselves on campus without fear of ending up in a military database.” 

National ACLU staff attorney Ben Wisner said in a prepared statement that “the Pentagon’s monitoring of anti-war protesters is yet another example of a government agency using its powers to spy on law-abiding Americans who criticize U.S. policies. How can we believe that the National Security Agency is intercepting only al Qaeda phone calls when we have evidence that the Pentagon is keeping tabs on Quakers in Fort Lauderdale?” 

In an eight-page document obtained by NBC, the Department of Defense listed reports on 43 anti-war activities between November 2004 and May 2005 in 18 states and Washington, D.C. The majority were listed as “not credible” threats.  

The April UC Berkeley demonstration was aimed at attempting to halt military recruitment on the campus. A Berkeley Stop the War Coalition flyer announcing the event noted that “the Associated Students at the University of California [had recently] passed a resolution that argued that military recruiters (who refuse to recruit gays and lesbians) violate the University of California’s anti-discrimination policy and therefore should not be allowed access to ASUC facilities.”