Fresno – The ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and members of a Fresno peace group filed requests today under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act seeking information about the government’s infiltration of a local peace group. The requests were filed with the offices of the FBI and U.S. Attorney, who maintain a Joint Terrorism Task Force with local law enforcement agencies in the Fresno area. The requests are prompted in part by the New York Times’ disclosure last November of an internal FBI bulletin advising local law enforcement agencies around the country to monitor anti-war activists and to report to the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“The FBI memo confirms that the federal government is targeting innocent Americans engaged in nothing more than lawful dissent,” said Julia Harumi Mass, staff attorney with the ACLU-NC. “We are filing these information demands because the public has a right to know how Aaron Kilner, a member of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department’s “anti-terrorism team” came to infiltrate Peace Fresno and what policies and procedures are in place to authorize similar spying on other community groups.”
The group has already filed requests for information under the California Public Records Act with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and the Fresno Police Department. Those agencies denied having any records regarding Peace Fresno or its members and refused to turn over requested manuals, pamphlets and procedures related to intelligence and surveillance.
Peace Fresno members discovered one of its members had actually been a government agent when the Fresno Bee published an obituary on September 1, 2003, about Aaron Kilner’s death in a motorcycle accident. In his obituary, Kilner–known to Peace Fresno as Aaron Stokes—was identified as a member of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department’s “anti-terrorist team.” When members of Peace Fresno saw the picture and read the obituary they began piecing the story together.
“We were shocked and deeply disturbed to discover that one of our members–who had quietly participated in meetings, vigils and demonstrations for several months–turned out to be a government spy,” explained Camille Russell, who was president of Peace Fresno at the time of the infiltration. “We believe we were targeted because we are outspoken critics of the Bush administration's policies and we fear that the government has secret, potentially inaccurate records on Peace Fresno and its individual members.”
Catherine Campbell, a local attorney representing Peace Fresno added: “The California Constitution prohibits this kind of infiltration without some specific suspicion of criminal activity. Even if local law enforcement officers are acting under the direction of the FBI or other federal authorities, they are still bound by the privacy guarantees embodied in this state’s constitution.”