Rumsfeld Spies on
Quakers and Grannies
By Matthew Rothschild
Saturday 17 December 2005
Not to trouble you or anything, but the next time you're going to a protest, the eyes of the government may be upon you.
And I'm not just talking about local police filming your activity.
I'm not talking about the FBI under cover in your midst.
I'm talking about the Pentagon, too, getting into the act.
According to an MSNBC story on December 13, Rumsfeld's Pentagon is tracking some of the most innocuous and lawful protests.
For instance, the Pentagon has a file on an anti-war group that was gathering at the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Florida, to plan a counter-recruiting effort at local high schools.
That group of Quakers constitutes a "threat," according to a 400-page Pentagon document that MSNBC got hold of.
It was "one of more than 1,500 'suspicious incidents' across the country over a recent 10-month period" that caught the attention of the Pentagon snoops, MSNBC said. Of these, "nearly four dozen" were anti-war meetings or protests.
The Pengaton's partial file on the spying is available at http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/msnbc/sections/news/DODAntiWarProtestDatabaseTracker.pdf.
It lists 43 events in a six-month period alone, dating from November 11, 2004, to May 7, 2005. Pentagon political spying took place in the following states and the District of ColumbiA: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
One took place in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 26, 2005, according to the Madison Capital Times.
It was sponsored by the Student Labor Action Coalition and the Stop the War, the Capital Times reported. "Participants in the rally numbered only about 20," the paper said, and it was designed to protest recruitment in Madison. "A planned Air Force recruiting drive was abandoned as a result."
The Pentagon's database "listed the type of threat posed by the event as 'anti-DOD vandalism' and marked the source as 'not credible.' The case, however, was left on a status of 'open/unresolved,' " the Capital Times reported.
The Pentagon's snooped on another counter-recruitment protest, this one in Santa Cruz on April 5. It labeled the protest a credible "threat."
"Over 300 students marched into a campus job fair, occupying the building and holding a teach-in until all military recruiters left," according Santa Cruz Indymedia. It quoted third-year student Jen Low saying: "The notion of the Pentagon spying on peaceful protesters is a major threat to the freedoms that they claim to protect."
The Pentagon also surveilled Code Pink and the Raging Grannies in Northern California, starting a file on a November 10, 2004, protest at the Sacramento Military Entrance Processing Station ("Disposition: Open/Unresolved," the document states) and a May 7, 2005, counter-recruiting protest at the San Francisco Recruiting Station ("probably peaceful," it notes).
"It's just a big waste of time and money," says Natalie Wormeli, who is on the board of directors of the Northern California ACLU and is co-founder of the Davis chapter of Code Pink. "I think taxpayers should be outraged at that." She adds, "We are not the enemy of the state. And I do worry it could have a chilling effect on newcomers to the cause. I get concerned we're headed to a new COINTELPRO. The U.S. can do better this. We should not be living in a surveillance society."
Ruth Robertson of the Raging Grannies, who provided songs for the San Francisco rally, says, "I guess they still don't get it that grannies in flowery hats are peaceable."
Gail Sredanovic of the Raging Grannies makes an additional point: "Aside from the disturbing civil liberties aspects of the Pentagon spying on local peace groups, it makes me scared to think that the folks in charge of protecting us from possible terrorist attacks can't tell the difference between a terrorist threat and a peaceful citizen gathering. Are they really that stupid?"
Matthew Rothschild has been with The Progressive since 1983. His McCarthyism Watch web column has chronicled more than 150 incidents of repression since 9/11. His exclusive web commentaries, This Just In, run on the website several times a week. Monday through Friday, he does two-minute web radio commentaries that are also available as podcasts, as is his weekly half-hour interview show, Progressive Radio. He co-founded and directs the Progressive Media Project.