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ACLU Asks State if it is Providing Data to FBI
Published on Thursday, December 22, 2005 by the San Francisco Chronicle
ACLU Asks State if it is Providing Data to FBI
Group concerned after Iraq meeting at Stanford watched
by Joe Garofoli
 

The American Civil Liberties Union asked the state Wednesday to reveal whether law enforcement agents were gathering information on California activists, in light of revelations that the federal government monitored a conference on Iraq at Stanford University and an anti-war protest at UC Santa Cruz.

The ACLU asked whether local and state law enforcement officials were providing information to the FBI about a variety of groups, including Greenpeace, United for Peace and Justice, Code Pink, UC Santa Cruz Students Against the War, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Three California affiliates of the ACLU filed their request with Attorney General Bill Lockyer, citing the state Public Records Act.

The FBI has said it conducts investigations legally and according to Justice Department rules. Lockyer spokesman Nathan Barankin had not yet seen the request Wednesday but said the office would comply.

The ACLU seeks any intelligence compiled by the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, a clearinghouse of information about domestic intelligence. Lockyer reorganized the center in 2003 after concerns that it was collecting intelligence on activists conducting peaceful demonstrations.

The ACLU is concerned that because federal officials have greater leeway to investigate organizations than do their California counterparts, state and local agents could be conducting surveillance for Washington that would be illegal under California law.

"The Bay Area has a rich tradition of opposing various activities of the government and having a robust debate on current issues," said Mark Schlosberg, police practices policy director of the ACLU of Northern California. "The prospect of the government monitoring that peaceful activity is disturbing."

On Tuesday, the national ACLU released FBI documents it had obtained that the group said "showed the FBI expanding the definition of 'domestic terrorism' to include citizens and groups that participate in lawful protests and civil disobedience."

Included in the thousands of pages were documents showing that FBI agents had obtained a contact list for "attendees at the Third National Organizing Conference on Iraq," a 2002 event at Stanford University at which activists and academics discussed the effect of sanctions on Iraq.

Though the report was heavily redacted, the documents said the event was "affiliated with (the) American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee," a 25-year-old civil rights organization that was one of the co-sponsors of the conference.

"Why would you have surveillance of a conference at a respected university?" said Mary Rose Oakar, a former Ohio congresswoman and president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who noted that no one involved in the event had been arrested. "Do we not have academic freedom in this country?"

The FBI files released this week by the ACLU also showed that the government had been monitoring the activities of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Noting the group's penchant for street theater, PETA general counsel Jeff Kerr said, "The FBI ought to be able to tell the difference between a terrorist and a guy in a chicken suit handing out leaflets."

Last week, MSNBC obtained 400 pages of Pentagon documents revealing that the U.S. military had listed 1,500 "suspicious incidents" across the country over a 10-month period dating back to 2004, including dozens of anti-war meetings and protests.

Among the incidents was an April 6 anti-military recruiting protest at UC Santa Cruz. The military, which defended its intelligence as "properly collected" to MSNBC, listed the Santa Cruz protest as a credible security threat.

"If the Pentagon is gathering information about students and labeling nonviolent protest as a threat, then what is the average American going to feel about picking up a sign and getting out to the streets to protest the war?" said Josh Sonnefeld, a UC Santa Cruz student and anti-military recruiting organizer who attended the demonstration.

©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

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