Documents released last month by the Department of Defense reveal that a domestic surveillance program of college organizations opposed to the presence military recruiters on campus was more extensive than first revealed.
The 13-page report indicates that DoD collected information on the activities of student groups at the State University of New York at Albany (SUNY), the New York University Law School, William Paterson University in New Jersey, Southern Connecticut State University, and the University of California.
The documents were made public through a Freedom of Information Act filed by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a group that counsels American military personnel affected by the Pentagonâs gay ban known as Donât Ask, Donât Tell.
In December NBC News revealed the DoDâs surveillance of several campus groups opposed to Donât Ask, Donât Tell and the Iraq War that had planned protests against military recruiters visiting their schools. These student organizations came under the observation of the militaryâs Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) program intended to monitor terrorist threats to the U.S. military. The protests were labeled âpotentially violentâ and âcredible threatsâ for terrorism by DoD observers.
In particular, the LGBT student group at New York University Law School, OUTLaw, was targeted because Pentagon officials believed âthe term Outlaws is a backhanded way of saying it is alright to commit possible violence and serve as vigilantes...â
After SLDNâs initial FOIA request, a recalcitrant DoD in April submitted documents that indicated three schools â NYU Law School, William Patterson and the University of California â had been snared in surveillance program..
An SLDN appeal, which was only successful because it was backed up by a federal judgeâs order, dislodged the current batch of TALON reports.
Those documents revealed that surveillance was ongoing at SUNY and Southern Connecticut universities as well.
âFederal government agencies have no business peeping through the keyholes of Americans who choose to exercise their first amendment rights,â said SLDNâs executive director C. Dixon Osburn in a statement. âIt is patently absurd that this administration has linked sexual orientation with terrorism.â
There also seemed to be an attempt on the part of the DoD to exaggerate the threat these protests posed to recruiters.
âThe fact that the protest is in a different location from the recruiters does not mean much. Protestor tactics have included using mass text paging by cellular telephone to inform others of the location of the recruiters,â the TALON reports noted.
The TALON filings show that the DoD was tipped off about the location and extent of student protests. Contrary to earlier reports that these communications were âinterceptedâ, the TALON documents indicate that emails distributed by the student groups were forwarded to Pentagon investigators by an anonymous individual or individuals.
âThe emails referred to in the documents were forwarded to DoD by a âsourceââ, said Commander Greg Hicks, Pentagon spokesman.
âDoD does not monitor, nor collect emails from college students. An email not meant for DoD was never intercepted.â
At least one TALON entry seems to be a third-party account of a protest that occurred at Southern Connecticut State University. A narrative of the incident appears to have been written by someone who was present but did not take part in the protest. This has lead some to surmise that an undercover agent monitored the event.
Commander Hicks denied that there was an undercover investigator at the protest. He added that Defense Department regulations prevent undercover surveillance, and that policy regulations governing the information TALON gathers ensure that only information on possible terrorist threats from foreign sources is now collected.
Similar Pentagon investigations of anti-war protestors and peace activists during the Vietnam War led to Congressional hearings and limits on the type of information DoD could collect about U.S. citizens.
However, TALON is part of the U.S. governmentâs widening effort to investigate domestic terrorism instigated by foreign sources.
In a February letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Defense Department acknowledged that it had inappropriately gathered information on the student protestors.
Other Pentagon agencies subject to the FOIA request claimed they had no information similar to what appeared in TALON. The National Security Agency would neither confirm nor deny it monitored student groups.
SLDN spokesperson, Rebecca Sawyer, said her organization is still not satisfied it has received everything the Pentagon knows about the surveillance programs.
âWe do not believe the Pentagon has been fully forthcoming, and are considering additional avenues to determine if there has been more surveillance than currently revealed,â she said.