Secret database obtained by NBC News tracks "suspicious" domestic groups
Dec. 13: A secret Pentagon database indicates the U.S. military is collecting information on American peace activists and monitoring Iraq war protests. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.
By Lisa Myers, Douglas Pasternak, Rich Gardella and the NBC Investigative Unit Updated: 7:51 p.m. ET Dec. 13, 2005
WASHINGTON - A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.
A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a 'threat' and one of more than 1,500 'suspicious incidents' across the country over a recent 10-month period.
'This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible,' says Evy Grachow, a member of the Florida group called The Truth Project.
'This is incredible,' adds group member Rich Hersh. 'It's an example of paranoia by our government,' he says. 'We're not doing anything illegal.'
The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.
LINK TO SECRET DOD DATABASE, EDITED FOR CLARITY Department of Defense database listing domestic "threats"
'I think Americans should be concerned that the military, in fact, has reached too far,' says NBC News military analyst Bill Arkin.
The Department of Defense declined repeated requests by NBC News for an interview. A spokesman said that all domestic intelligence information is 'properly collected' and involves 'protection of Defense Department installations, interests and personnel.' The military has always had a legitimate 'force protection' mission inside the U.S. to protect its personnel and facilities from potential violence. But the Pentagon now collects domestic intelligence that goes beyond legitimate concerns about terrorism or protecting U.S. military installations, say critics.
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.'
The increased monitoring disturbs some military observers.
More at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10454316/