Photo by Gustavo ArellanoKathy Hundemer can't stop thinking about the strange man at the recent Orange County Peace Coalition meeting who just sat there without saying a word. She's also curious about the guy with the pro-Bush sign who's at the Orange traffic circle every Wednesday evening, when she and other Code Pink activists hold their weekly anti-war protest.
“He has taken our pictures, videotaped us, and also has taken pictures of our cars and license plates,” Hundemer said. “He could be a spy.”
Hundemer isn't necessarily being paranoid. On June 26, the SanJoseMercuryNewsrevealed that the California National Guard had been spying on Sacramento-area chapters of a trio of activist groups: Gold Star Families for Peace, Raging Grannies and Hundemer's own Code Pink.
State Senator Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove) is spearheading an investigation of the National Guard's so-called Domestic Watch Center. Hundemer and other Orange County activists want Dunn to investigate whether they're being spied on too, either by the guard or local cops.
“I called Senator Dunn's office last Friday asking if our Orange County chapter could meet with him over this,” she said. “But I have not had any response back yet.”
Dunn says cops aren't his focus. “There are circumstances where domestic law enforcement agencies can conduct surveillance activities,” he said. Instead, his investigation is targeting whether the National Guard violated state law when it destroyed computer records from the spying operation. In the MercuryNewsarticle, a Guard spokesman claimed the operation involved little more than a few soldiers sitting at computers. A day later, Dunn wrote a letter to the Guard demanding all records. But on July 6, Dunn learned that on the same day he sent that letter, the general who led the covert operation had suddenly “retired,” and his computer's hard drive had been wiped clean.
Dunn said his repeated requests to obtain access to records from the Guard's so-called Domestic Watch Unit are being ignored. On July 14, he sent a subpoena to the Guard making these requests official. “We believe the National Guard is going to outside legal counsel to deal with our investigation,” Dunn said. “That may explain why they have gone into a mode of absolute no-contact.”
If the Guard received federal permission to spy on California residents, such an order would violate the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the military from conducting domestic spying operations. Dunn says the Guard has claimed it can't cooperate with his investigation because of an unspecified “federal investigation.” He suspects a cover-up. “I don't believe federal authorities are going to get involved in any way, because then they will have the Posse Comitatus Act hanging over their heads,” he said.
But assuming federal authorities didn't authorize the spying, who did? As chairman of the state legislature's finance committee, Dunn oversees the Guard's budget and says he doesn't remember signing off on any covert surveillance programs against nonviolent anti-war activists. He believes the Guard exploited a loophole in the Posse Comitatus Act, which doesn't apply to state national guard units.
“That's why my office has already drafted language that would create the first ever state Posse Comitatus act,” he said. “We have been told there are other non-federally activated guard units around the country that have established similar surveillance units. I am beginning to wonder whether we actually have a federally organized spying unit using non-activated guard units as a way of circumventing the Posse Comitatus Act.”
Anaheim activist Duane Roberts wants Dunn to expand his probe into local law enforcement as well. “The situation with the California National Guard is just the tip of the iceberg,” Roberts said. “In Orange County, the police secretly subscribe to email listservs that peace activists use, not only to learn about the time, date and location of anti-war demonstrations, but to collect data about the people and groups who organize them. They also quietly send plainclothes officers into demonstrations.”
Roberts recalled an incident from 1999, when he and other Anaheim activists met in the Jeffrey-Lynne neighborhood near Disneyland with a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The purpose of the meeting was to complain about police brutality by Anaheim police officers. “There was a person acting suspiciously, following people around, and whenever somebody tried to talk to him, he would walk away,” Roberts said. “We discovered later this guy was an Anaheim police officer. We found out because he was working as a guard at City Council meetings.”
On Sept. 1, 2001, just 10 days before the infamous terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., an Anaheim police report was publicized in TheOrangeCountyRegisterand LosAngelesTimes. The report revealed that police had spent several weeks and generated more than 500 pages of documents assembling “dossiers” on various Anaheim activists.
Several of those documents were Weeklyarticles quoting those activists about police brutality (see “Anaheim Spooks,” Sept. 14, 2001). The California attorney general's office promptly announced it would investigate whether the cops violated those activists' civil rights. On June 29, almost four years later and two days after the National Guard spying hit the newsstands, the attorney general's office announced there was no evidence that Anaheim's finest had broken the law.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).