Reports in Review

The Public Eye Magazine - Spring 2007

Report of the Month

Spies on the Right of Us

No Real Threat: The Pentagon's Secret Database on Peaceful Protest
American Civil Liberties Union, New York.
January 2007.

Review of the TALON Reporting System
U.S. Department of Defense.
February 2006.

In December 2005, NBC News revealed that the Department of Defense (DoD) was gathering information on peaceful anti-war activity and storing it in a database known as TALON, Threat and Local Observation Notices. Campus protests and counter-recruiting efforts of such groups as Code Pink, Brooklyn Parents for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War and American Friends Service Committee won the DoD's attention as organizers of suspicious, possibly terrorist, activities near military installations. TALON's aim, according to the DoD, was "to alert commanders and staff of potential terrorist activity or apprise them of other force protection issues."

To learn more about "this disturbing echo of an earlier era of unchecked and illegal government surveillance," the ACLU filed Freedom of Information Act requests in February 2006 to viewTALON reports. Yet it took a court order for the Pentagon to release any documents. The civil liberties group discovered that the Pentagon threat database stored not four dozen but at least 185 entries on lawful, antiwar political activities in fourteen states, reports which the Pentagon says are now deleted.

The most fascinating element of this report are the pages of reproductions of the released documents. Over and over you read information from activist email blasts or web site postings translated into bureaucrat-ese by a "Special agent of the federal protective service, Dept. of Homeland Security." A Department of Defense memo about TALON from February 2006 said most contributors of information on the lawful anti-war protests were from "civilian" (non-military) sources and that it was unsolicited.

It is clear from the memo that local and state police were tied into the information gathering system and at least one TALON report stimulated the San Francisco Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force in November 2004 to advise commanders of military "processing stations" on how to handle upcoming counter-recruiting demonstrations. [Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Forces coordinate activities among all forms of intelligence and law enforcement in a region.]

Another TALON report quotes an FBI Intelligence analyst about the practices of International Action Center activists, revealing that the FBI is doing its own scrutiny of anti-war groups (p. 41). Similarly a report on a UC Santa Cruz protest against recruiters at a career fair refers to government surveillance of domestic political groups: "Source, a federal law enforcement officer with 20 years of experience in intelligence collection on domestic groups stated that civil disobedience can range from a sit-in to forcibly removing personnel from the station along with vandalism of the building(s)." (p. 42)

The DoD admitted in the February 2006 memo that the mission of apprising the government of not only terrorist threats but also "other force protection issues" generated "some confusion" and encouraged the reporting on anti-war groups. But it also noted that "This sharing of information has resulted in an enhanced relationship between DoD and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies."

In calling for Congressional hearings, the ACLU warned that we still don't know if there are any other databases, nor have we seen the directives guiding the TALON program or any other troublesome content.

One piece of good news coming out of the documents is that the government thinks counter recruitment is having an effect. As one report noted, "Counter Recruitment has become a national issue, and it's working. Between these efforts and widespread anger about the war, all branches of the United States military have seen drastic drops in their recruitment rates." (p. 34)

-- Abby Scher

Other Reports in Review

In Katrina's Wake

Dismantling a Community
By Leigh Dingerson
Center for Community Change, Washington, D.C., September 2006.

This is a moving indictment of the bald opportunism of conservatives who privatized the public schools in New Orleans after Katrina. Within nine days of the hurricane and the destruction of over half of the city's schools - the Heritage Foundation had issued a market-based, privatizing vision for rebuilding of New Orleans that might have been a blueprint for what came afterward.

As the report documents, federal Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings repeatedly intervened to support Heritage's vision by waiving regulations and facilitating the transfer of millions of public dollars to establish privately run - but publicly funded - charter schools.

Around the country, government funded charters, which can be privately or publicly run, have been used to break teachers unions, siphon funds from already-strapped public schools, and offer corporations the chance to profit from public dollars.

Woven through the report's narrative is a morality tale in the shape of a news story that describes the conservative takeover of the school system. We read how a "network of conservative anti-government activists have moved with singular intensity" to replace public education with charter schools that function like a sieve, rescuing white and middle class children and letting poor, underachieving and special needs students of color, who made up 93% of the city's public school population, fall through the gaps.

In January 2006, only 17 public schools were open, 14 of them charters. By September 2006, only 53 schools were open, still fewer than half the pre-storm number, 31 of them charters with 21 different organizations running them.

Even after Katrina's devastation of the educational system, students and former students in a community-based writing program run by the Center continued to write, and their eloquent stories form half of this publication.

- Pam Chamberlain

The Klan's New Target

Ku Klux Klan Rebounds
Anti-Defamation League, February 2007, on-line publication.

The Ku Klux Klan has been revitalized by the anti-immigrant fervor sweeping far right groups, attracting more members and fueling greater activity, according to this report by the Anti-Defamation League. The Klan's particular ideology claims that Jews are coordinating a tide of non-White immigrants to flood the nation with the aim of challenging and ultimately destroying white supremacy in the United States.

Members loosely coordinated in 40 different Klan groups occasionally come together in "klonvocations" - not just in the South, but also the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Western states. One newly founded sect in Florida, the Empire Knights of the KKK, now has chapters in 18 states. Groups have grown where immigrants have become relatively large proportions of the local population fairly quickly as they fill jobs like those in food processing plants of the Midwest.

The researchers track "unity rallies" bringing together the Klan with other anti-Semitic and racist groups like Christian Identity, neo- Nazis, and the Aryan Nation. Relying on publicity actions and public gatherings, Klan members have also been implicated in hate crimes, illegal gun running, plots to blow up government buildings, and other criminal activity, including violence directed against disputing factions. For all this detail, carefully documented and happily without hyperbole, the report still focuses on a network whose current membership it estimates at about 5,000 nationally.

-- Pam Chamberlain

Swinging Voters

Libertarian Voters in 2004 and 2006
by David Boaz and David Kirby, The Cato Policy Report,
The Cato Institute,
January/February 2007.

This is a sound election analysis that takes an important kernel of truth - the influence of libertarian-minded people as swing voters in the 2006 elections - and uses it to inflate the importance of the authors' own political position.

The Cato Institute is the libertarian think tank that promotes a free market ideology in which the government's role is dramatically limited to protecting property and persons. "Libertarian" is also the word used to describe those across the political spectrum including Cato Institute researchers - who support civil liberties. The authors studied the voting patterns of yet another definition of "libertarian" - those who are socially liberal and "fiscally conservative," though not necessarily supporters of the free-market ideology such as Cato promotes.

These fiscally conservative libertarians could be 10 to 20 percent of the electorate, the authors suggest - more than soccer moms or NASCAR dads, other attractive, independent minded voters. They swung to the Democrats in 2004 and 2006, according to their analysis of multiple polls. Still, the authors argue, journalists overlook the strength of libertarian fiscal conservatives because of their rigid prism dividing the electorate into a right and a left.

The authors admit these voters don't actually identify themselves as libertarians, and it is difficult to compare polls which ask different questions. A close look at the questions also finds they often exaggerate the intensity of someone's anti-government opinion, for instance by forcing the person to choose whether s/he thinks: "the less government the better" or "there are more things that government should be doing."

With those caveats: Seventy four percent of these voters went for Bush, Sr. in 1988, according to one poll. In 2004, only 59 percent voted for Bush, Jr., while they doubled their vote for the Democrat, narrowing the gap between Republican and Democratic votes cast from 52 points in 2000 to 21 points in 2004. By 2006, that margin was 23 points. Last year, fifty-nine percent of fiscally conservative libertarians voted for Republicans.

The authors account for this erosion by a growing distaste for Bush, Jr.'s spendthrift, wiretapping ways. The Public Eye's coverage of right-left coalitions against the Patriot Act (Spring 2006) supports this analysis. Yet voters tending toward fiscal conservatism do not necessarily embrace Cato-style libertarianism, which often gets lost in the authors' repeated description of these voters as "libertarian" in a perhaps unconscious writerly sleight of hand.

-- Abby Scher

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