|In setting up an 'antiwar tent city' on the grounds of the Washington Monument, "Peace of the Action," have drawn unwanted attention from a host of domestic surveillance companies [Getty]
The US peace group "Peace of the Action" has discovered documents showing that it and many other organisations have been under surveillance for many months by a private agency called the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR).
Founded by antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, Peace of the Action has focused on opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by pressuring legislators and organising demonstrations and civil disobedience actions at visible places around Washington DC.
According to the ITRR's Web site:
The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR) is an American and Israeli nonprofit corporation created to help organisations succeed and prosper in a world threatened by terrorism.
ITRR's Israeli and American experts provide counter-terrorism training, seminars and security specialisation in dealing with threats such as weapons of mass destruction (WMD), suicide bombers and other forms of international terror striking both the public and private sector.
The revelations about the Philadelphia-based ITRR emerged as part of a scandal involving the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, an office of the Department of Homeland Security, which gave a no-bid $103,000 contract to ITRR to gather information on various community groups.
Why? Because the organisations supposedly posed a threat to Pennsylvania infrastructure.
As Bill Quigley and Rachel Meeropol, attorneys with the Centre for Constitutional Rights, wrote:
Our friends at MoveOn.org, the Ruckus Society, Immokalee Workers, the new SDS, Jobs with Justice, the Brandywine Peace Community, ANSWER, PETA, Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, MOVE, The Yes Men, Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, Climate Ground Zero, the Rainforest Action Network, pro-Palestinian Groups, Puerto Rican nationalists, prisoners' rights organizations, citizen conservation groups and immigration activists opposing Arizona's crazy attempts to criminalize all non-citizens should know--Pennsylvania has been monitoring you.
Dated February 22, 2010 and March 19, 2010, the newly discovered documents appear to have been produced for ITRR's contract with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Peace of the Action is mentioned in conjunction with its March 2010 antiwar efforts in Washington DC, including "Camp Out Now," an encampment on the National Mall to protest President Barack Obama's continued prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Camp Out Now's risk level was labelled 'Moderate,' which according to the definition in the document means, "available intelligence and recent events indicate that hostile elements have the capability to take action against the target and that such action is within the adversary's current intent. It is assessed that an attack or action is likely to be a priority and might well be mounted."
The documents describe surveillance efforts in New Jersey and Washington DC, and as far away as Cairo, Egypt.
However, there is a catch to this 'intelligence.' Pennsylvania police and lawmakers discovered that much of ITRR's 'actionable intelligence' was garbage.
An ABC news affiliate based in Harrisburg, Pa., quoted Major George Bivens, head of the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigations, who said of ITRR's reports, "I liken it to reading the National Enquirer. Every once in a while, they have something right, but most of the time, it is unsubstantiated gossip."
Take the 'strategic analysis' from ITTR's November 20, 2009 Bulletin. As Quigley and Meeropol note, the bulletin contains:
a lengthy and detailed account entitled "the Return of Campus Activism." Students everywhere are organising against increases in tuition, we are told. Protests like one at UC Davis, which included placards stating "Education only for the rich" are not "spontaneous," but rather are "part of an international Anarchist movement that has been coordinated through Internet postings." If "students are coordinating their activities," ITTR ominously concludes, "it behooves law enforcement personnel from both the campus environment and civil authorities...to start working on their coordinated responses."
The man who hired ITTR, James Powers, quit his post at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency earlier this month due to the scandal.
The release of the ITTR documents confirm what a lot of progressive groups have suspected for years - that following the September 11 attacks, the 'national security state' has grown to immense proportions, watching and gathering 'intelligence' on hundreds of thousands of lawful and peaceful protesters.
Even worse, the 'privatise everything' mantra that is so popular in Washington has expanded into the military and intelligence-gathering - producing a booming new industry, as documented by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, among others.
If the lead-up to the Iraq war and the way investment bankers manipulated the country's economy is any guide, the 'financial incentive' is an incentive to cheat, and in this case, thousands of activists could be locked away in prison as a consequence.
ITRR's open ties to Israel are no small matter, either. Also mentioned in the new documents are surveillance of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which called for a "Stop Israeli Apartheid Week" in March. ITTR labelled the "threat level" as 'moderate.'
Combined with the recent FBI raids on activists in Chicago, Minneapolis and North Carolina, it is clear that the Obama administration is not reacting to public opposition to its wars by ending them, but rather by harassing and seeking to silence those who actively oppose them.
Our response has to be a loud and vigorous defence, not only of those who are spied upon and unjustly arrested, but also of the Arab and Muslim community, of immigrants and anyone else being scapegoated for the crisis.
We also have to build a vigorous opposition to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. Only a mass movement that support soldiers who refuse to fight their wars, calls out the greed and inhuman policies of Wall Street, and joins hands with those under the boot of US imperialism can the violence of the world's mightiest military machine.
Brian Lenzo is an online contributor to TheSitch.com and the Socialistworker.org, as well as being a long-time antiwar activist, having recently travelled to the Gaza Strip in 2009 to witness the effects of Israel's blockade of the territory. The above article first appeared in the online publication Socialistworker.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.