On June 8 the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana Foundation filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on behalf of six grassroots peace organizations and one environmental group demanding that three federal agencies release any information collected through surveillance or monitoring of those groups.
Scott Crichton, executive director of the Montana ACLU, says it’s nothing new for the federal government to keep a watchful eye on peace organizations, but with recent revelations that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on Americans’ phone calls, concern has been elevated. He says if the federal government is spying on peace activists and environmentalists in Montana, he wants to know why.
“Does that begin an open file on somebody? Can that be used for justification for more intrusive monitoring or as a reason to go after their telecommunications?” wonders Crichton. “The bigger problem is it serves to chill people from exercising their rights. We don’t pay taxes for the government to spy on legitimate political practice.”
At least two of the groups named in the request claim to have observed “government agents” monitoring their activities, according to the FOIA request. Other groups aren’t aware of any monitoring, but they took part in the FOIA request to make sure they haven’t caught the eye of Big Brother.
“We don’t have any particular suspicion, but we are aware of a pattern nationwide where the Bush administration has been surveilling peace groups and environmental groups,” says Larry Campbell of Friends of the Bitterroot, the environmental organization named in the FOIA requests.
“I don’t know, but I would suspect they are targeting groups that are active and efficient at having the laws of the land enforced through the courts,” Campbell continues. “Basically, we may be having some effect on impeding corporate interests.”
A lawyer for the ACLU says he’s asked that the FOIA request be expedited, but it could take up to six months before the government responds.