HELENA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana has asked three federal agencies for any information they may have collected by monitoring eight peace and environmental groups in the state.
The ACLU filed the Freedom of Information Act request Thursday with the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense for any information gathered from Sept. 12, 2001 through June 1, 2006.
The request was filed on behalf of the Montana ACLU, Helena Peace Seekers, Billings Peace Seekers, "Just Don't Go" of Helena, Taking Action for Peaceful Solutions in Butte, University of Montana Students for Peace, the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in Missoula and the Friends of the Bitterroot environmental group from Hamilton.
The groups want any records that show if the agencies used the Patriot Act to monitor them.
"These Montana citizens organizations have real concerns that their civil liberties are being violated by sweeping and overbroad government eavesdropping on their legitimate political activities," Scott Crichton, ACLU of Montana's executive director, said in a statement. "We want to help them determine whether their meetings have been monitored and their members targeted for surveillance by one or several agencies of the government."
The request seeks any records of surveillance by these agencies on the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the Helena Peace Seekers during their regular peace vigils. The request also sought information from any surveillance of an awards ceremony at a Helena church in December 2005 when "two apparent government agents were observed monitoring attendees."
The ACLU is also seeking records relating to the surveillance of a peace rally at Emma Park in Butte in July 2004. Participants saw what appeared to be two government agents taking down license plate numbers and other information on a laptop computer, the request said.
The two men said they were from Denver and working under contract with the local government to "count traffic." Their business card said they worked for West-Professional Consulting in American Fork, Utah, although the request said there is no such business in that city. A Butte-Silver Bow commissioner was unaware of any traffic-counting contract with the firm.
The request also seeks information on any monitoring of a Taking Action for Peaceful Solutions meeting in Butte in October 2001 or at its documentary film series, "Citizens Political Education Project," on the Montana Tech campus.
"We are inquiring of multiple agencies because we know, for example, that the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity has been keeping tabs on organizations speaking against the pre-emptive war in Iraq, with complete disregard for human rights and the rule of law," Crichton said.
In addition, the request sought information about any surveillance, including photos, of any of these groups participating in a protest outside Fort Benning, Ga., in November 2002.
Officials with the departments of Homeland Security and Justice did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. A Department of Defense official said only that any organization has a right to make a FOIA request.
The ACLU has filed similar Freedom of Information Act requests in 20 states on behalf of more than 150 groups and people. Crichton said the federal government has released documents revealing monitoring and infiltration by the FBI and local law-enforcement targeting some political, environmental and anti-war groups.