Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In the beginning, there were the Denver spy files

Spygate, in the beginning there were the Denver spy files

Looking back, the ACLU announced Tuesday that the Pentagon is shutting down its spy database on peace activists
Update: After this article was published last night, an important comment came in: "Is the Pentagon shutting down its spy database on peace activists, because the spying will now be privatized like security was in Iraq? Will spying on private citizens be contracted out to corporations with short shelf lives, so the U.S. will not be held responsible?" Let us hear your thoughts ...

By Brenda Norrell
Aug. 22, 2007

In the beginning, there were the Denver spy files.

The year was 2002. The revelation was that Denver Police within the Intelligence Bureau, were spying on American Indians, attorneys, at least one senator and peace activists. Not only were they spying on them then, but they had been for decades.
As the secret files were made public, the truth became clear: Police were spying on American Indians and peace activists all over the United States.
It was called the “new McCarthyism” by the editors who would print those stories, before the ACLU filed lawsuits in Denver and across the nation.
Navajo Times was among the first to print the articles that I wrote in October of 2002.
Glenn Morris, professor, AIM member and Columbus Day protest organizer said, “It seems that Indians, and Colorado AIM in particular, have been targeted in the ‘spy files.’”
Morris was targeted, along with Russell Means, Vine Deloria, Jr., Wilma Mankiller, Winona LaDuke, John Echohawk, John Mohawk, George "Tink" Tinker, Wallace Coffey, Ward Churchill, Dennis Banks, the Leonard Peltier Support Group, Big Mountain Support Group, Colorado AIM, and Indian staff and attorneys at the Native American Rights Fund.
“This is the Indian equivalent of having a police spy database in the Black community that consisted of files on WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Thurgood Marshall, Jesse Jackson, NAACP, the Black Panthers, Cornell West, John Hope Franklin and Angela Davis, all at the same time,” Morris said.
Spy files were kept on great leaders, including Wilma Mankiller, John Echohawk, and former South Dakota Sen. James Abourezk.
In Nov., 2002, I interviewed Abourezk for the Lakota Journal in South Dakota.
“I didn’t like it and I think there should be a law against it. It should be stopped,” said Abourezk, an attorney in Sioux Falls.
Abourezk, who served on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said he doesn’t have a clue why he was spied on, even though he now has a copy of the file. The documents simply indicate his name and that Denver police were watching him.
Abourezk said years ago he encouraged the formation of the Anti-Defamation League of American Indians in Denver and supported formation of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, a civil rights group.
“I haven’t been in Denver in 15 years,” Abourezk said.
The existence of the Denver spy files came about because of discovery in another court case. Then, after six new file cabinets of Denver police spy files were discovered, Morris pointed out that the City of Denver never voluntarily disclosed the existence of the files.
The spy files were revealed by the All Nations Alliance, which was the umbrella alliance for Transform Columbus Day, and the American Civil Liberties Union in March of 2002, Morris said.
Home addresses, the names of friends, car license plates, handwritten notes and mailing lists of human rights groups were in the spy files.
A “Free Leonard Peltier” bumper sticker landed great-grandmother Helen Henry, 82, in the Denver spy files.
“We are not sure with whom else the files have been shared, but in Russell Means’ and my file there are references to some sharing with the FBI,” Morris said.
Law enforcement knew of a plot to assassinate Ward Churchill, but never told him.
Morris said the ACLU, representing several plaintiffs including members of All Nations Alliance, filed a class action suit under a federal law which allows public officials who have violated one's civil rights to be sued in federal court.
Osage author and professor Tink Tinker was also targeted in the Denver Police spy operation. Tinker, an activist who spoke at Columbus Day protests along with Morris and Means in recent years, found 17 pages on his activities recorded in the Denver Spy Files.
Not only was Tinker targeted, but the religious graduate school where he is professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions was also targeted.
It is the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Tinker said, “Now the school where I teach -- a largely White, Christian (Methodist) graduate school of theology training ministers -- is also suspect of criminal activity!”
Tinker said the spy operation was underway long before incidents leading to the Patriot Act.
“Since this pre-dates the September 11, 2001, events and thus pre-dates passage of the Patriot Act, it demonstrates a considerable history of the disallowing of dissent in the United States -- a clear violation of constitutional intent in our so-called constitutional democracy,” Tinker said.
Tinker said spy files on Native Americans and human rights activists are now emerging across America.
“These ‘spy’ files -- which are not just a Denver phenomenon but are now coming to the surface in other cities from Portland, Ore., to New York -- also point to a particularly nagging problem with respect to the impunity enjoyed by police in this ‘free’ country that the president bragged about shortly after 9-11-01.”
Tinker said he expects the situation to worsen.
“It seems that freedom extends especially to the police in their increasing control of civil society in the United States,” Tinker said.
“What has been happening since 9-11-01 is even more scary. I predict that we will see an ever-increasing demonstration of police power, police impunity, disallowable of dissenting voices, and control of civil behaviors.”
Those words were spoken in 2002. Since that time, the Denver court case has resulted in new policies at the Denver Police Department.

However, city and federal spy files began to emerge like maggots in a dead carcass.The ACLU began to reveal spy files on peace activists all over the country. The New York City Police scoured the country to spy on peace activists. The extent to which police eavesdropped on telephone conversations and followed people may never be known.
The “new McCarthyism,” is what the Quaker’s American Friends Service Committee, plaintiff in the Denver suit, called the spy files.
"First there were Salem witch trials. Next came the red scare of the 40s and 50s. Then it was targeting of Martin Luther King Jr. and members of the civil rights movement,” said Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee.
“Today it's hundreds of groups and individuals who exercise their First Amendment right to speak out and express their views and opinions that are unfairly targeted and labeled.
“When will we learn from the mistakes of the past?"
The federal lawsuit, American Friends Service Committee v. City and County of Denver, was initially filed in Denver District Court March 28, 2002.
The Chiapas Coalition and other Latin American human rights groups were among those police labeled “criminal extremist.”
Denver police kept secret files on speakers at Amnesty International meetings and protesters at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
There are comments written in the spy files, like those of plaintiff Sister Antonia. Police wrote, the Sister said, "global financial policies are responsible for the uprisings in Chiapas, Mexico.”
The spy files list those "seen" at a demonstration protesting the celebration of Columbus Day in 2000.
License numbers and descriptions of vehicles used by peaceful protests are listed. There are home addresses and personal descriptions of peaceful protesters. The addresses of residences visited by individuals frequently are included.

Not so long ago, we were all shocked that the police kept secret spy files on peace activists in the United States.

ACLU: Denver spy files documents:

ACLU: Pentagon shuts down spy database on peace activists, August, 21, 2007
A copy of the ACLU's report on the TALON database, No Real Threat: The Pentagon's Secret Database on Peaceful Protest, is available online at:
More information on the ACLU's FOIA requests regarding the TALON database is available online at:

Photos: Colorado AIM/Columbus Day Protest in Denver 2006/Glenn Morris and Western Shoshone Carrie Dann at Columbus Day Protest

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