We don't have any doubt that the United States sometimes faces threats, and indeed, there's at least one the Bush administration might have taken a little more seriously. But we wonder if a small peace gathering at a Quaker meetinghouse in Florida or an antiwar march at NYU or a rally in Hollywood or a campus protest at Southern Connecticut State University ought to be the sort of "threats" the Defense Department takes seriously.
They are, apparently.
A 400-page database obtained by NBC News confirms scattered reports that the U.S. military is monitoring the activities of peaceful antiwar groups. On page after page, the report identifies meetings and rallies and protests, large and small, as "threats" or "suspicious incidents" to be watched. The Pentagon has also been monitoring Web sites for information on peaceful protests that just might morph into terrorist attacks.
The Defense Department refused an interview request from NBC, but a Pentagon spokesman told the network that all domestic intelligence information is "properly collected" and involves "protection of Defense Department installations, interests and personnel." As NBC notes, that explanation is hard to square with the evidence set forth in the database, which shows that the Pentagon has collected information on a number of antiwar events that occurred far from any military installation that might need protecting.
We'd make a joke here about '60s-era FBI files, if only this were funny. As Bert Tussing, director of homeland defense and security issues at the U.S. Army War College, tells NBC: "There is very little that could justify the collection of domestic intelligence by the United States military. If we start going down this slippery slope it would be too easy to go back to a place we never want to see again."