(Mario Savio on the steps of Sproul Hall, probably 1965)

The Renewed Chill on Political Liberty

The following story from the San Francisco Chronicle tells a familiar but nonetheless sad story about political surveillance during the George W. Bush presidency.

San Francisco 19 July 2006

Terror database tracks UC protests

U.S. agent reported on '05 rallies
against military recruitment

by Demian Bulwa

A federal Department of Homeland Security agent passed along
information about student protests against military recruiters at UC
Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, landing the demonstrations on a database
tracking foreign terrorism, according to government documents
released Tuesday.

The documents were released by the American Civil Liberties Union,
which filed a Freedom of Information Act request on behalf of student
groups that protested against recruiters who visited their campuses
in April 2005.

The students were angry when they turned up in the database of a
Pentagon program called Threat and Local Observation Notice, or
TALON, which the government started in 2003 as a way to collect data
that could help stop terrorist attacks. Officials have acknowledged
that the reports on protests should not have been included. …..

* * * *

What? U.C. students being watched by federal agents? The monitoring of political dissidents is an old story in our “free society”. (See Frank Donner’s Age of Surveillance for an account of several decades of political repression, the Palmer raids, McCarthy era hysteria, and the like.)

During my days as a student in Berkeley it was widely known that and meetings and marches were closely monitored. At noon rallies outside the Sproul Hall administration building, speakers would sometimes ask that we turn and wave to the FBI photographers perched on the roof of the student union. G-men assigned to follow leaders in the student movement would knock on the doors of activists’ homes and introduce themselves, a way of intimidating people. An insidious consequence of this infringement on our liberties was to undermine the ability of peace groups and other political organizations to operate without fear of agent provocateurs their midst. During the late 1960s these fears developed into full blown paranoia. The investigations of FBI and CIA abuses Senator Church and others during the mid-1970s exposed these vile practices to the light of day. Alas, the selection of Bush and Cheney picked up the rock under which these vermin had been hiding and put them back to work.

“What are those traitorous students and Quakers up to?”
“We’ll get right on it, boss.”