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Florida peace group could sue over Pentagon spying

AFP | December 23 2005

A Florida peace group whose meetings were monitored and reported as threatening by the Pentagon are considering suing the US government for civil rights violations, a lawyer said Friday.

The Truth Project, a group of peace activists in Lake Worth, Florida who mainly campaign against military recruitment in schools, said it was collecting data to decide whether to launch a lawsuit over government spying on its citizens that could have national impact.

Their lawsuit could take on all of the domestic espionage carried out by various government agencies that has been revealed recently, said Rob Ross, lead lawyer for Truth Project.

Such a suit could have a broad political impact, as it would come in the middle of a political battle in Washington over President George W. Bush's authorizing the National Security Agency to intercept some domestic communications by US citizens without a judge's consent, which some say violates US laws.

At the same time, media reports have revealed that the FBI has spied on domestic social activist groups under the rubric of the "War on Terror" launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

Truth Project's case arose after a television news report more than a week ago revealed that the Pentagon had spied on a meeting of the group, which it considered a "threat".

A November 2004 meeting by the group was listed in a database of 1,500 "suspicious incidents" across the US over a 10-month period.

"We're angry but we're not surprised, said Marie Zwicker, a Truth Project director, noting that many in the group recall the days of FBI spying on activists in the 1960s.

Zwicker said the meeting was only to discuss visiting schools to distribute information against military recruiting.

"We go to the high schools to educate students because there's a heavy military presence. (We provide) information to the students to give them a balanced view -- the military not always gives exact reality statements about what life in the military is really like," Zwicker said.

The Pentagon has acknowledged the database's existence but maintains its monitoring of such groups is legal if they appear as threats to national security.

"There are of course provisions that permit police, when they have substantial reason, to need to monitor some activity, and that's been upheld by some courts," said Ross.

"But I don't know that the military have argued that they have the right to infiltrate domestic political groups," he said.

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