Declassified FBI Files Reveal Years of Surveillance of Peaceful Demonstrations by FBI's Counterterrorism Division Print
Washington, DC ? The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia today released new evidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting counterterrorism investigations into School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), a faith- and conscience-based human rights group. SOA Watch, which organizes yearly nonviolent demonstrations calling for the closure of the School of the Americas, a controversial training school for Latin American soldiers located at Fort Benning, charges that the files demonstrate a clear attempt to stifle political opposition.

?We gather yearly to remember those killed by graduates of this school, and to nonviolently call for a change in U.S. policy towards Latin America,? said Reverend Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest and founder of SOA Watch. ?It?s clear that this surveillance is politically motivated, and it?s a disgrace that Instead of investigating any of the heinous crimes of graduates of the School of the Americas, our government is using its resources and time to monitor peaceful demonstrators, people who are working for true democracy in this country.?

In the released documents, the FBI noted that "The event has grown dramatically over the past several years." The Bureau monitored the media attention that the annual November vigil and the trials of people arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience received, and agents noted which court tactics had chilling effects on people?s decisions to participate in civil disobedience.

The documents released today show that after 2001, FBI surveillance of the demonstrations became ?priority? and subject to ?counterterrorism? monitoring ?while repeatedly emphasizing that the protests were peaceful. An October 2003 memo even states that ?[t]he leaders of the SOA Watch have taken strides to impart upon the protest participants that the protest should be a peaceful event.?

?Clearly the FBI knew it was spying on a peaceful demonstration, activity protected by the First Amendment,? said Gerry Weber, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Georgia. ?That vital protection includes those who express controversial beliefs.?

The documents come to the ACLU as a result of a national campaign to expose domestic spying by the FBI and other government agencies. The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act requests in 20 states on behalf of more than 150 organizations and individuals. In response to these requests, the government has released documents that reveal monitoring and infiltration by the FBI and local law enforcement, targeting political, environmental and anti-war groups.

The documents released today are available on the SOA Watch website at, and more information, including a profile of Father Roy Bourgeois, is available online at