I'm a Soldier, Not a Spy
As Americans take stock of the news that the government has been involved in domestic warrantless eavesdropping as well as surveillance of "potentially threatening people or organizations inside the United States," many people are troubled, including me.
Although the government may be interested in my ACLU membership, my wife's participation in war protests or my affiliation with the liberal United Church of Christ, my real anxiety stems from the fact that I am a soldier and may now be under suspicion from my friends and neighbors.
Specifically, given the information slowly leaking out of Washington, it may not be farfetched for some to think that when I "stumble across people or information" that might be of interest to the government, I might report it to the Pentagon's three-year-old Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA).
While such a conclusion would be false (I hadn't heard of CIFA before reading about it in the news this month), in an Orwellian world, the protestations of someone labeled the "eyes and ears" of the state are reasonably suspect.
What makes me think that the people with whom I interact regularly will somehow believe I won't report suspect words and actions? When I walk to my bus stop in Bethesda each morning, I see who has a "War Is Not the Answer" yard sign. One of the people I regularly see on my commute wears a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals button on her overcoat. My church, which prayed for me during my year in Iraq, has an e-mail list that informs me about local civic actions, including war protests. I attend night law school, frequently in uniform, and through the social network of law students know when the gay, lesbian and bisexual organization is planning to lead the picketing of Judge Advocate General Corps recruiters who come to campus.
Now that we've learned that the military may be collecting such "raw, unverified information" in the form of "Talon reports," my fear is that when friends and neighbors see me, in or out of uniform, their speech could be chilled. I wonder: Will I begin to see a change in behavior? Will my neighbors draw their shades more often? Will they think twice about putting a bumper sticker on their car? Will I be deleted from the church list? Will my law school class discussions be more reserved?
"Paranoia," some may say. The only people who need to worry are those with something to hide. This may be true. In fact, being with the president or against him in the war on terrorism may be the current controversy, but I can envision a time when antiabortion groups and churches might fear soldiers attending meetings or services if such groups are labeled "threats" by a subsequent administration. Are they sincere pro-lifers or moles? Perhaps gun owners' groups might feel that soldiers are joining to get access to membership lists or activities if such groups are deemed "dangerous." Is one a Second Amendment defender or domestic spy?
Yes, I took an oath to defend the United States against all enemies "foreign and domestic," but the implication of domestic intelligence-gathering by the military, even by a limited number of soldiers, should be sufficiently disturbing for American citizens in and out of uniform that we think long and hard about crossing the line, even a little.
The writer is a lieutenant colonel in the Army. The views expressed here are his own.