A number of college students were thrust into the fray of a national debate on covert domestic spying programs over winter break when NBC news released a leaked internal U.S. Military document that classified several student-organized anti-war demonstrations as "suspicious incidents."
The demonstrations were among 50 of the 1,500 anti-war actions investigated by the federal government according to the 400-page Department of Defense document, most of which focused on counter-military recruitment efforts.
Protests organized by students from UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, New York University and University of Wisconsin were among those investigated by the Pentagon over a 10-month period, according to the document.
Only one of the protests, a demonstration aimed at removing military recruiters from campus at a UC Santa Cruz career fair last April, was classified as a "credible" rather than a "non-credible" threat.
The demonstration in question was non-violent and posed no physical danger to recruiters, according to members of Students Against War, who organized the UCSC action.
"There's nothing SAW has done wrong. We were exercising our free speech and the right to organize," said UCSC sophomore Cyndi Gacosta.
The demonstration earned its classification, says Students Against War member David Zlutnick, because "it was extremely effective."
"Our goal that day was to get military recruiters off campus, and that's exactly what happened," said Zlutnick.
Zlutnick described the demonstration as having drawn approximately 300 participants, 40 to 50 of whom entered the career fair and surrounded military recruiters, chanted slogans and demanded that the recruiters leave. After prolonged negotiation with career fair organizers, the recruiters agreed to exit the building.
Regardless of why the Defense Department considered UCSC students a "credible threat," the classification has sparked strong opinions from campus activists like UCSC junior Ian Paul, who regards government spying of student demonstrators as an issue of civil liberties being restricted.
"The repression and dismissal of our rights and freedoms all for the sake of national security is what we are supposed to be fighting against in Iraq," said Paul.
Meanwhile, says Zlutnick, Students Against War "has received both positive and negative attention from other students." Messages of support have flooded in from student activists across the country, but threats to the group have also appeared on right-wing conservative blogs.
Here at Mills, student reactions to reports that campus demonstrations appeared on a Pentagon list were also mixed.
Freshwoman and Anthropology major Emily Leavitt questions the efficacy of monitoring citizens.
"It doesn't make sense to me how data-mining several thousand people who may not have anything whatsoever to do with terrorism will keep our country safe," said Leavitt.
But junior and Literary and Cultural Studies major Diana Galbraith said that she didn't understand how people could expect increased security without some degree of sacrifice.
"We can't live the same way we used to and expect security to increase at the same time. I personally don't mind if the government learns that I read Pride and Prejudice in the sixth grade."
Some Mills students, however, view the covert intelligence gathering as more of a threat.
Sophomore and English major Tyger Walsh says government surveillance is not just about collecting information. It's also about silencing dissent.
"It's basically criminalizing activism and classifying severe disagreement with government policies as terrorism," Walsh said.
Sophomore and public policy major Julia Sabory says that reports of government surveillance could discourage citizens from speaking out against policies they disagree with.
"Things are strategic. If you put fear in citizens minds and hearts you can do almost anything, and that's what's being exemplified now," said Sabory.
But as upset as being spied on made them, UCSC student organizers say they are far from silenced.
Members of Students Against War began working
with the American Civil Liberties Union last week to file a Freedom of Information Act with the federal government in attempts to obtain more information about the surveillance. They also met with UCSC Chancellor Denise D. Denton, who called upon federal elected officials last week to launch an investigation into government surveillance on college campuses.
And accross the country, student interest in antiwar activism has not waned as the result of government spying. Campus Anti-war Network representatives report that new members have been drawn to their organization since the Pentagon list was published.