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As Pentagon Prepares to Shut Down TALON Spying Database, Antiwar Students Group Talks About Being Listed as “Credible Threat”

StorySeptember 06, 2007
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The Pentagon is preparing to shut down its controversial domestic spying database later this month. The database, named TALON, includes scores of reports on nonviolent demonstrations and antiwar rallies. We speak with Kot Hordynski a member of Students Against War that was a TALON surveillance target. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up today, we go to an issue that — well, at the Aurora Forum last night, I met a young man afterwards who reminded me of this story, and interestingly, our guest yesterday, Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, devoted a number of pages in his book to this issue: the Pentagon preparing to shut down its controversial domestic spying database later this month. The database, named TALON, includes scores of reports on nonviolent demonstrations and antiwar rallies. Targets included Quaker and church groups, organizers of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” protests and student activists mobilizing against the Iraq War. One of those groups was Students Against War, based out of the nearby UC Santa Cruz campus.

Kot Hordynski is a Santa Cruz senior and member of Students Against War. He found out his group was spied on after MSNBC revealed TALON’s activities in late 2005. Kot joins us here in the Stanford studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Kot.

KOT HORDYNSKI: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what happened.

KOT HORDYNSKI: Well, in April of 2005, Students Against War at the UCSC campus, our group, we organized a protest, a counter-recruitment rally that was a 100 percent peaceful rally in the center of campus that marched to a recruitment fair that was happening on campus. And we later, fast-forwarding to later in that year to December of 2005, we read a report on the Internet, as you mentioned, by an MSNBC report that listed our — that listed a number of different events that were organized by antiwar groups in a document in the TALON database, and our protest, our April 5 event, was listed as a credible threat.

AMY GOODMAN: A credible threat, your group.


AMY GOODMAN: Credible threat to…?

KOT HORDYNSKI: To, well, I suppose, military installations, I suppose. That’s what the TALON database monitors.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, you started to try to seek information.

KOT HORDYNSKI: Uh-huh. Yes, of course. I mean, you know, it was a pretty startling notion to realize that our peaceful protest made it onto a government database. But we realized that we had to do something about it, and so we organized, and we started speaking with the ACLU and basically trying to get to the bottom of how our group made it onto that list.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you find out?

KOT HORDYNSKI: Well, you know, not very many conclusive things so far. The government has, of course, come out now and said that the TALON database will be closed. They’ve also in the past have said that all of those groups that made it onto the list that were peaceful groups that didn’t belong there were put there on by mistake. But, you know, I think in many ways, as much as the TALON closure is a really good thing, I think that in many ways it’s too little, too late, because I think, you know, in many ways the damage has been done. And I think —

AMY GOODMAN: Did it damage your group? Did you get distracted from organizing?

KOT HORDYNSKI: No. You know, I think we were actually very fortunate that we didn’t. We didn’t get distracted, and I think as soon as we realized that this was something that was a lot more real than we had thought, that government spying was actually happening in this country, I think we realized that that meant we had to persevere and that we had to keep on doing what we were doing, because, you know, if we were doing these things that we saw as right and they were being seen as something that was a deviation from the party line, we knew that we had to keep on doing these things. But I think in a lot of other instances, you know, things like this could have a really chilling effect on society.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell me what you actually did, what Students Against War did — yes, protesting the war, but the whole issue of focusing on recruitment.

KOT HORDYNSKI: I think, you know, simply put, if we stop recruitment, we stop the war. That’s why we do counter-recruitment work. We focus a lot in the local community around the Santa Cruz area. There’s a lot of recruitment that goes on in high schools, not only on college campuses. And so, what we did was we formed a group that would organize against recruitment wherever it happened. And so, even though not much recruitment goes on at the UC Santa Cruz campus, we thought that if recruiters were going to be there, it was our duty and our responsibility to confront them.

What we often do is hand out literature that basically summarizes the real, the truth that recruiters don’t tell potential recruits. We also formed a sort of nonviolent line of questions that would continuously tie up the recruiters so that they weren’t able to perform their job. And we also held —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

KOT HORDYNSKI: — a rally outside. We would ask them, you know, “How do you — what can you say about the huge amounts of people who are promised government loans for school but never receive them?” Over 65 percent, I think. “What can you tell us about the fact that so many women report being sexually harassed and even raped in the military? How can you reconcile these facts with the things that you tell potential recruits about how great joining the Army will be?”

AMY GOODMAN: You sound like a budding journalist.


AMY GOODMAN: Finally, as I was talking to you last night, you talked about your Polish background and related it to the issue of surveillance of your antiwar group.

KOT HORDYNSKI: Yes. You know, I think that’s again one of these startling realizations. My family is from Poland, although, of course, I don’t personally remember much of the communist time there. I think that everyone who was involved in — it seems that indeed everyone who was involved in sort of solidarity work or solidarity work or work against the government spying and surveillance knows and realizes how dangerous and how pervasive government surveillance was. And so, to realize that this is happening in this country and that can potentially be related to that is a pretty frightening notion.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Kot Hordynski, we’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you for being with us, with Students Against War. He’s a senior at UC Santa Cruz.

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