In the 1970s Senate and House investigations established what many antiwar protesters and campus activists had believed for several years: that they were being watched and sometimes targeted by the government, including the National Guard and the FBI. Scattered evidence accumulating around the country suggests that the domestic surveillance that occurred during the Vietnam War may be returning, involving a more coordinated federal effort through the National Guard as well as the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), teams of state and local police, and federal agents, led by the FBI.
So far there are few high-profile incidents and actions that can’t be written off as excessive zeal by individuals, but the incidents look disturbingly familiar to people who investigated the earlier clandestine actions of the government. “Back in the late 1960s and early ’70s the FBI, the military, local police and campus police had their own bailiwicks and limited powers,” said Christopher Pyle, a former investigator for Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence, in the 1970s, and currently a professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College. “But operating today through the JTTFs and the combined intelligence and fusion centers, which join military analysts with law enforcement specialists, they are all part of one big club, effectively destroying the Fourth Amendment against unlimited search and seizure.”
Several months ago the Army’s inspector general and the California State Senate launched investigations of a California National Guard intelligence unit that had “monitored” an antiwar demonstration at the state capitol this past Mother’s Day, partly organized by Cindy Sheehan’s Gold Star Families for Peace. A report not yet publicly released by the inspector general found that there were other cases of domestic intelligence activity by the California Guard. Democratic State Senator Joseph Dunn, whose budget subcommittee oversees funding for the California Guard and who is conducting the state investigation, said financial improprieties may have occurred, as state and federal laws forbid such activities. Dunn told The Nation that he is looking into reports that the Guard in some ten other states, including New York, Colorado, Arizona and Pennsylvania, may have set up its own intelligence units and conducted similar monitoring of antiwar groups. Such controversial directives could be coming from the Pentagon, he speculated.
Surveillance of antiwar protesters by the National Guard bumps up against the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the military from taking part in domestic law enforcement. But this may change. Several weeks ago the Washington Post reported on the Pentagon’s classified plans for guarding against and responding to a domestic terrorist attack, describing the changes as a “big shift for the military.” Adm. Timothy Keating, head of the Northern Command, which coordinates military involvement in homeland security operations, discussed ways the National Guard might be used and, according to the Post, “left the door open to seeking an amendment of the Posse Comitatus Act.”
Troubled by an increase in domestic spying, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in May against the FBI to force the release of files on numerous activists and groups in about ten states, charging that “the FBI and local police are engaging in intimidation based on political association and are improperly investigating law-abiding human rights and advocacy groups.” The ACLU’s request, which also asks for information about the practices and funding of the JTTFs (currently there are about 110), is a Who’s Who of national and local advocates for well-known causes, including antiwar, environmental, labor, fair trade and human rights causes.