By Bob Roehr
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon inappropriately gathered “intelligence” on at least three groups in the United States opposed to the anti-gay military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to documents released by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network on April 11.
Reports of military domestic spying first surfaced in the press in December. It involved what was called “suspicious” groups, including those opposed to DADT. However, while the law allows the military to gather intelligence overseas, it may not do so within the United States.
In January, SLDN filed a freedom of information request seeking to lean “the full scope of any government violation of SLDN’s and other LGBT organizations’ constitutional rights.” When the government stalled, they filed a formal lawsuit in February.
Among the documents released was a Jan. 27 letter to Sen. John W. Warner, chairman of the Committee on Armed Services. In it the Pentagon acknowledged, “Although the TALON reporting system was intended to document suspicious incidents possibly linked to foreign terrorist threats to DoD (Department of Defense) resources, some came to view the system as a means to report information about demonstrations and anti-base activity that would be of interest to field commanders from a force protection perspective.”
It asserted that those inappropriate “repots on demonstrations and anti-base activities” have been removed from the database. And that detailed guidance and retraining would be completed by the end of the month.
Among the documents released were three events at college campuses, including a planned “kiss-in” in protest of military recruiters at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
A Feb. 3, 2005 TALON report focused on “an Internet posting” on a planned protest of recruiters on campus and at a symposium at New York University. “The term ‘OUTlaws’ is not defined in the posting. The (deleted) is concerned this is a security issue. Specifically, the term ‘OUTlaws’ is a backhanded way of saying it’s all right to commit possible violence and serve as ‘vigilantes’ during the symposium. Therefore it is possible that physical harm or vandalism could occur at this event,” the report read.
Since the source of the information was the Internet, a simply Googling of “outlaw” and “NYU” would have revealed that “OUTLaw is an organization for lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender law students, as well as their supporters and friends.” It is a recognized student organization at NYU and scores of other law schools.
An April 5, 2005 memo focused on news of a planned protest of recruiters on campus at the University of California at Berkeley. “There is a strong potential for confrontation at this protest given the strong support for anti-war protests and movements in the past,” the memo read.
It noted, “The fact the protest is in a different location from the recruiters does not mean anything. Protester tactics have included using mass text paging to inform others of the location of the recruiters. Also protesters have used diversions to bypass security personnel to get into events to conduct protests.”
A follow up e-mail, evidently from the same source, reported that “60 Berkeley students filed into the career fair in single file and confronted the recruiters one at a time, challenging their anti-gay policies and the war in Iraq. This action took over an hour and effectively shut down the Marine’s operations for most of the day.”
SLDN executive director C. Dixon Osburn said, “Pentagon leaders have acknowledged inappropriately collecting some of the information in the TALON database. That information should be destroyed and no similar surveillance should be authorized. Free expression is not a threat to our national security.”
The organization expects the military to continue to search its records and eventually release additional information on inappropriate spying, though it acknowledges no one is sure of the extent of such activity.