This reminds me of the Bad Old Days™.
Army intelligence agents inquire about UT Islam conference: The U.S. Army sent intelligence agents to investigate a conference about women and Islam at the UT School of Law.
“It was not a terrorism related conference. It was very benign … The reason why we put it together is there had been a lot of debate on campus about these issues due to the burka [face-covering mask worn by Muslim women] in Afghanistan and Iraq,” [an organizer] said.
A few days later, two U.S. Army intelligence agents showed up and wanted a list of all the people who attended the conference.
They approached Jessica Biddle, who helped Aziz get funding for the event.
“[I said] that he was intimidating me and is there a problem? His response was 'no, no problem, we're investigating a couple of people who attended the conference and we need to see the list,'” Biddle said.
The U.S. Army has confirmed that the investigating agents are assigned to the Intelligence and Security Command based in Virginia.
(Spotted via Pandagon.net.) I believe that law enforcement personnel have a right to attend any public meeting, just like the rest of us. If your meeting is public they can come and take notes. Asking around about membership lists for meetings and organizations is a technique that really ought to be used sparingly, though, even when it is proper (which it can be) as it often will have a chilling effect.
The second most disturbing aspect of this story — and the one that folks at UT seemed worked up about — is that the list request seems to be part of a vacuum cleaner operation, rather than one based on any particular suspicion. Although of course we can't know that.
To me the most disturbing part of this story is that Army Intelligence officers are being used for domestic intelligence work. Doesn't anyone remember Christopher Pyle?
By Christopher H. Pyle
In the late 1960s, [the military] secretly collected personal information on more than a million law-abiding Americans in a misguided effort to quell anti-war demonstrations, predict riots and discredit protesters. I know because in 1970, as a former captain in Army intelligence, I disclosed the existence of that program.
Back then, the Army employed more than 1,500 plainclothes agents, coast to coast, to watch every demonstration of 20 people or more. The chances that any one of those protests would grow into a riot so large that regular Army troops would be needed to restore order were remote in the extreme, but Army intelligence wasn't taking any chances. Its plainclothes agents infiltrated civil rights protests, misdirected busloads of anti-war demonstrators, set up phony news organizations and engaged in a paranoid effort to prove that communists were stirring up opposition to racial segregation and the war in Vietnam.
After I testified against the surveillance in 1971, Sen. Sam J. Ervin's Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights hired me to write two book-length reports on the Army's spying. To do this, I had to read the contents of six Army computers containing spy reports. What struck me most was not the harm that any one of those (often inaccurate) reports could do by itself, but the harm that could be done if the government ever gained untraceable access to the financial records and private communications of its critics.
In other words, we've been there before. It wasn't pretty.
PS. Capt. Pyle is now Prof. Pyle of Mount Holyoke College