In early February, Congress is expected to hold hearings to examine whether President Bush broke the law when he ordered the National Security Agency to conduct domestic spy operations inside the United States.
New reports show that the Pentagon and FBI spied on Greenpeace, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Catholic Worker as well as anti-war protesters.
In December, NBC News obtained a secret military intelligence database that included information on over 40 anti-war and anti-nuclear protests that took place between November 2004 and May 2005.
Nine of the protests took place in the New York region between November 2004 and May 2005, including counter-recruiting demonstrations at New York University, City College, SUNY-Albany, Southern Connecticut State University and William Patterson University in Wayne, NJ.
According to The Washington Post, the Pentagon has also pushed legislation on Capitol Hill to create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, to allow the FBI and others to “share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence.”
“We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America,” warned Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in an interview with the Washington Post. “This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing.”
Newly released documents also show the FBI and its Joint Terrorism Task Forces have monitored and infiltrated several nonviolent activist groups.
At the Indiana University, the FBI monitored a “Vegan Community Project.” At the Stanford University, the FBI obtained the contact of list of students who attended a 2002 conference opposed to the U.S. sanctions against Iraq. Other documents suggest the FBI placed interns at PETA to carry out surveillance on the animal rights group. Another document says the Catholic Worker movement “advocated peace with a Christian and semi-communistic ideology.”
“Labeling law abiding groups and their members ‘domestic terrorists’ is not only irresponsible, it has a chilling effect on the vibrant tradition of political dissent in this country,” said Ann Beeson,Associate Legal Director of the ACLU.
Questions are now also being raised over what the National Security Agency has done with the intelligence that it obtained under President Bush’s order. According to the Post, the NSA has turned over information to the Defense Intelligence Agency, FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security.
Is this history repeating itself? In the 1960s and 1970s the U.S. government used NSA intercepts in its massive campaign against the black nationalist, American Indian, Chicano and anti-war movements.
In order to prevent future such abuses Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 requiring all domestic spy operations be approved by the secret FISA court.
The law came out of Senate hearings led by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID). Church warned in 1975:“We have a particular obligation to examine the NSA, in light of its tremendous potential for abuse. . . The interception of international communications signals sent through the air is the job of NSA; and, thanks to modern technological developments, it does its job very well. The danger lies in the ability of the NSA to turn its awesome technology against domestic communications.”
Now a generation later, Congress is preparing for a new round of hearings over the NSA turning against domestic communications.
Russell Tice, who worked as an NSA intelligence agent, up until May 2005, has already asked to testify before Congress at these hearings.
“It is with my oath as a US intelligence officer weighing heavy on my mind that I wish to report to Congress acts that I believe are unlawful and unconstitutional,” Tice said. “The freedom of the American people cannot be protected when our constitutional liberties are ignored and our nation has decayed into a police state.”