Saturday, September 04, 2004

Pre-Empting the Quaker Threat 

Earlier this week Schwarzenegger got a round of applause for invoking the shade of Nixon; won't you join us now in giving it up for COINTELPRO? Our esteemed colleague Avedon Carol caught this item from the Baltimore City Paper, about two women arrested during their annual July 4th demonstration outside the NSA -- a tradition started by the antiwar group Pledge of Resistance Baltimore in 1996. The protesters were acquitted of disorderly conduct and found guilty of trespass. But the criminal charges did not distress them nearly as much as certain information that came out at the trial:
The scene played out after two days of testimony in an unusual federal case that could have sent the two defendants to prison for six months and cost them $5,000 apiece. The military’s prosecution of the pair surprised the local peace activist community and has some wondering if it means a change in tactics by the NSA, the secretive spy agency headquartered at Fort Meade.

The agency, founded in 1952 to break enemy codes and create unbreakable codes for the United States, is so secretive that its very existence was officially denied until the 1990s, yet in a 1995 series The Sun reported that the NSA was Maryland’s largest single employer. Its budget—like the rest of the federal intelligence budget—is classified, and its employees—some 38,000 military and civilian contractors, according to author James Bamford, who has written two books on the NSA—are famously tight-lipped. Even so, in recent years the agency has boasted having the world’s most sophisticated satellites and its most powerful computers, capable of intercepting phone conversations, e-mails, and other communications around the world, and then sifting through the vast sea of information for clues about terrorists’ intentions . . . .

By all evidence, the Oct. 4, 2003, action was among the mildest, yet when protesters arrived this time the Cryptologic Museum was closed to the public. All because of the Pledge of Resistance people and their letter, according to NSA Police Maj. Michael Talbert, who testified at the August trial for the prosecution. “We had information we received from the Maryland Terrorism Task Force . . . that there was a scheduled protest,” Talbert told the court.

That the state’s anti-terrorism forces are monitoring Catholic lay workers and Quakers perturbs the peace activists, who hope to learn more about the spying. “There has been at least one instance, and probably ongoing instances, of treating the American Friends Service Committee in Baltimore as a terrorist group,” Farquhar says referring to the Quaker organization that the Pledge of Resistance group is loosely organized within. “I am still enough of a Quaker that that makes my blood boil.”

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