Privacy SOS

US military and fusion center officials: antiwar activism is terrorism

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Everyone has something to hide.

If you hear someone say they don't, ask them to hand over their smartphone and unlock it for you. You just want to browse through their emails, photos, text messages, and call history, you say. No big deal.

Most likely they'll balk. Everyone cares about their personal privacy.

But some people might further protest that while they don't want their partner or friend looking through their phone, they aren’t worried about the government doing it. “I’m a nobody,” they might say. “The FBI doesn’t care about what I’m doing, and neither does the NSA.”

That might be true. Most likely, if someone is apathetic enough to roll over and accept a full-on surveillance state as a consequence of living in the 21st century, they’re right; a good little data subject like that person probably won’t ever find themselves within the government’s targeted surveillance sights. (Unless, of course, their neighbor sells their land to a fracking company.)

But even if they "have nothing to hide", most people probably don’t want the oceans to rise so fast and high that they sweep away their homes and cities. And most likely, if they are living and breathing, they think the Iraq war was an unqualified disaster that is now having devastating consequences throughout the Middle East.

The movement to stop the Iraq war failed. We are now learning more about why. If you care about living in a free society, you should care about this:

A lawsuit against the US military for spying on the antiwar organization Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) in Washington state has blown open a huge window into the security state's actual view of the people they are supposedly meant to protect.

Kevin Gosztola reports:

The lawsuit is known as Panagacos v. Towery. It accuses the US military of directing John Jacob Towery, who worked for the US Army Force Protection Division at Fort Lewis, to infiltrate a group called the Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) in Olympia and Tacoma, Washington. It also accuses the cities of Olympia and Tacoma of coordinating with the military to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of activists.

PMR organized demonstrations from 2006 to 2009 against the “use of civilian ports in Puget Sound for striker vehicles and other military cargo being shipped over to Iraq and then shipped to Pakistan or Afghanistan,” according to Larry Hildes, who is one of the National Lawyers Guild attorneys representing activists targeted by the military.

Thomas Rudd, head of Force Protection, is accused of directing [US military employee] Towery to identify activists “in order to facilitate their arrest without probable cause.” Rudd apparently instructed Towery to build friendships and provide reports on what activists were planning, which Rudd could share with government agencies.

Both Towery and Rudd are accused of coordinating with local law enforcement in the state of Washington to “silence” PMR activists.

Hildes told Gosztola that, in depositions with military and fusion center officials, it emerged that some among law enforcement and in the military view peace activists as domestic terrorists. Not "like" domestic terrorists, but actual domestic terrorists.

According to Hildes, Towery admitted during depositions that he had not only been paid by the Army to go to PMR meetings in private homes but was also paid to attend meetings related to actions planned for the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention in 2008.

Chris Adamson, who was the director of a regional intelligence group of the Department of Homeland Security’s Washington Fusion Center and a lieutenant of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, stated in depositions that “civil disobedience is terrorism,” according to Hildes.

He claimed to attorneys that, while he admired Martin Luther King Jr., even what the civil rights movement had done had a “criminal nexus” and “he would have expected them to be investigated as terrorists.”

Hildes said Adamson believed if activists were using up “law enforcement resources with the intent of committing any criminal act,” it was “terrorism.”

A US military employee reportedly stated: "[O]f course we’re monitoring the peace movement because they’re anti-military."

Hildes told Gosztola that one official kept repeating this Orwellian statement: "There are no limits to intelligence sharing to defend the homeland."

It’s clear to pretty much everyone in the country and the world that the US war against Iraq was a shameful disaster. Today, Iraq is on fire as militants hardened from the years-long battle in Syria pour across the border and take over huge parts of the country. The US is sending some troops back. Some reports claim that ISIS has sent a message to the United States: "We’ll see you in New York."

Who is really defending the homeland? Is it the US military—busy spying on and trying to stomp out antiwar activism in the United States, and conflating peaceful dissent with terrorism? Or is it activists like those with PMR, who tried to stop a miserable war dead in its tracks before it could wreak regional havoc?

You or people in your family might have "nothing to hide" from the government. But if you want to live in a more peaceful and just world, you should be outraged that your government is wasting your money spying on people who are trying to prevent the next colossal blunder in US foreign policy.

The domestic intelligence infrastructure set up in the wake of 9/11 and ramped up with billions of dollars of federal funding has created a monster. This monster is staffed by people like Chris Adamson of the Washington Fusion Center, who do not hesitate to admit that what they’re doing is no different from what his forefathers did to the Civil Rights movement: trying to stop it through monitoring, intelligence sharing, infiltration, and, when necessary, brute force.

These comments should enrage every person who cares about living in an open society, whether you ever attend a protest or not. If you want to live in a free society, you must oppose this kind of political surveillance. It doesn't matter if you have nothing to hide. We all have something to lose.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.