As part of continuing litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union involving Pentagon surveillance of campuses across the nation, the organization’s northern California chapter has obtained new information that highlights a previously unknown role by the Department of Homeland Security.
Evidence of surveillance by the Pentagon was first uncovered in December when NBC News ran a report on a 400-page database, which characterized “threats” stemming from military protests and demonstrations at institutions of higher education nationwide as either “credible or “not credible.” New York University, the State University of New York at Albany, Southern Connecticut State University, the City College of City University of New York, the University of California at Santa Cruz, “a NJ Area University,” the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison were all listed in the database.
In March, the Northern California ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act suit to obtain documents held by the Defense Department on Santa Cruz Students Against the War and the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition, which were both listed in the database.
The ACLU reported this week that it received documents indicating that the Department of Homeland Security, which was created in 2002, provided the Pentagon with some of the information that went into the database.
“We learned the source of the information and it’s not encouraging,” Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California, said Wednesday. “We now have a lot more questions than answers.”
The documents specifically say that "a special agent of the federal protective service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security" provided the Pentagon with information on the students and indicate that the information was provided "to alert commanders and staff to potential terrorist activity or apprise them of other force protection issues."
Calls to Department of Homeland Security press officials went unreturned Wednesday.
Schlosberg said that that the department was created to protect the American people from terrorist activities, and he’s concerned that its officials have spent time monitoring political dissent on campuses.
But William H. Parrish, an associate professor of homeland security at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Wednesday said that the Department of Homeland Security likely shared information with the Pentagon as a matter of public safety.
“It is important to remember that one of the principal roles DHS plays is information sharing as it relates to public safety,” said Parrish. “Maintaining situational awareness of large gatherings where threats to public safety may occur is critically important.
“Although there does not appear to be any direct terrorist nexus to the event, a large gathering (demonstration) especially on a college campus may gain momentum and create public safety concerns,” added the professor. “I do not see an issue of civil liberties being violated rather proactive precautionary measures being taken by DHS and DoD.”