The Defense Department is collecting data on perfectly legal, peaceful, anti-war protesters.
The DOD database obtained by NBC News includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center. One “incident” included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes — a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The Fort Lauderdale protest was deemed not to be a credible threat and a column in the database concludes: “US group exercising constitutional rights.” Two-hundred and forty-three other incidents in the database were discounted because they had no connection to the Department of Defense — yet they all remained in the database.
The DOD has strict guidelines (PDF link), adopted in December 1982, that limit the extent to which they can collect and retain information on U.S. citizens.
Still, the DOD database includes at least 20 references to U.S. citizens or U.S. persons. Other documents obtained by NBC News show that the Defense Department is clearly increasing its domestic monitoring activities. One DOD briefing document stamped “secret” concludes: “[W]e have noted increased communication and encouragement between protest groups using the [I]nternet,” but no “significant connection” between incidents, such as “reoccurring instigators at protests” or “vehicle descriptions.”
Personally, I am very worried about this increase in military activity inside our country. If anyone should be making sure protesters stay on the right side of the law, it’s the police…not the military.
And it could get worse.
EDITED TO ADD (12/16): There’s also this news :
Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials…..
Mr. Bush’s executive order allowing some warrantless eavesdropping on those inside the United States including American citizens, permanent legal residents, tourists and other foreigners is based on classified legal opinions that assert that the president has broad powers to order such searches, derived in part from the September 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing him to wage war on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, according to the officials familiar with the N.S.A. operation.
….officials familiar with it said the N.S.A. eavesdropped without warrants on up to 500 people in the United States at any given time. The list changes as some names are added and others dropped, so the number monitored in this country may have reached into the thousands over the past three years, several officials said. Overseas, about 5,000 to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are monitored at one time, according to those officials.
This is a very long article, but worth reading. It is not overstatement to suggest that this may be the most significant violation of federal surveillance law in the post-Watergate era.
EDITED TO ADD (12/16): Good analysis from Political Animal. The reason Bush’s executive order is a big deal is because it’s against the law.
FISA does authorize surveillance without a warrant, but not on US citizens (with the possible exception of citizens speaking from property openly owned by a foreign power; e.g., an embassy.)
FISA also says that the Attorney General can authorize emergency surveillance without a warrant when there is no time to obtain one. But it requires that the Attorney General notify the judge of that authorization immediately, and that he (and yes, the law does say ‘he’) apply for a warrant “as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance.”
It also says this:
“In the absence of a judicial order approving such electronic surveillance, the surveillance shall terminate when the information sought is obtained, when the application for the order is denied, or after the expiration of 72 hours from the time of authorization by the Attorney General, whichever is earliest. In the event that such application for approval is denied, or in any other case where the electronic surveillance is terminated and no order is issued approving the surveillance, no information obtained or evidence derived from such surveillance shall be received in evidence or otherwise disclosed in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, grand jury, department, office, agency, regulatory body, legislative committee, or other authority of the United States, a State, or political subdivision thereof”.
Nothing in the New York Times report suggests that the wiretaps Bush authorized extended only for 72 hours, or that normal warrants were sought in each case within 72 hours after the wiretap began. On the contrary, no one would have needed a special program or presidential order if they had.
According to the Times, “the Bush administration views the operation as necessary so that the agency can move quickly to monitor communications that may disclose threats to the United States.” But this is just wrong. As I noted above, the law specifically allows for warrantless surveillance in emergencies, when the government needs to start surveillance before it can get a warrant. It explains exactly what the government needs to do under those circumstances. It therefore provides the flexibility the administration claims it needed.
They had no need to go around the law. They could easily have obeyed it. They just didn’t want to.