Homeland Security contributed bad data to military intelligence database

If you disagree with the policies of the U.S. government, or are a member of a group or association which expresses disagreement with government policies, an agent of the federal government is likely reading your web site and subscribed to your mailing list.

Undercover officers of the Federal Protective Service subscribed to the mailing lists and monitored Web sites of peaceful anti-war groups, and contributed information about those groups’ activities to a military intelligence database, according to Pentagon documents released Tuesday.

NBC News revealed in December 2005 that the Threat and Local Observation Notice database, used by the military to track potential terrorist threats to military installations, contained data on peaceful protesters and anti-war groups. The Pentagon subsequently announced that after a review, the data had been cleaned out of the database and intelligence personnel retrained.

“I don’t want it, we shouldn’t have had it, not interested in it,’ said Daniel J. Baur, the acting director of the counterintelligence field activity unit, which runs the Talon program at the Defense Department. “I don’t want to deal with it.’

Mr. Baur said that those operating the database had misinterpreted their mandate and that what was intended as an antiterrorist database became, in some respects, a catch-all for leads on possible disruptions and threats against military installations in the United States, including protests against the military presence in Iraq.

“I don’t think the policy was as clear as it could have been,’ he said. Once the problem was discovered, he said, “we fixed it,’ and more than 180 entries in the database related to war protests were deleted from the system last year. Out of 13,000 entries in the database, many of them uncorroborated leads on possible terrorist threats, several thousand others were also purged because he said they had “no continuing relevance.’ — New York Times

Each of the documents, (PDF) released Tuesday to the American Civil Liberties Union pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request, show that the leads on anti-war protests originated with undercover FPS agents, whose names were redacted from the documents at the request of FPS’s parent agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

One such document details an anti-war protest of a Sacramento, Calif., military entrance processing station planned by Veterans for Peace on Veterans Day in 2004, a day the center was closed. VFP specifically rejects any type of violent protest, according to its Web site. There were “no known vandalism or incidents as a result of the protest,’ the document notes.

Another document notes that VFP “is a peaceful organization, but there is potential future protest[s] could become violent,’ an accusation that VFP executive director Michael McPhearson calls “appalling.’

“The federal government should not be wasting valuable resources gathering files on peaceful protesters who disagree with the Bush administration’s policies,’ McPhearson said.

Another document details peaceful protests by the War Resisters League in New York City in 2005, noting that it “advocates Gandhian nonviolence,’ “will not use physical violence or verbal abuse toward any person’ and “will not damage any property.’

Several other documents detail peaceful protests at military recruiting stations by the American Friends Service Committee, National Front for Peace and Justice, and other groups.

Dave Ridley protests Nov. 13 in Concord, N.H.

FPS, originally created in 1971 as part of the General Services Administration to protect federal buildings, was moved under the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. It routinely monitors anyone it deems a potential threat to federal assets, such as Dave Ridley and the New Hampshire Underground.

An FPS officer cited Ridley for distributing handbills at an Internal Revenue Service office in Nashua, N.H., in September, after he wrote about the experience in the Keene Free Press, an alternative newspaper published in Keene, N.H. Ridley had entered the IRS office holding a sign saying “Is it right to work 4 IRS?’ and handed out flyers urging IRS agents to quit their “immoral’ jobs.

Last week he and 16 other people protested at the federal building in Concord just prior to his November 13 court appearance.

“The feds admitted in court that they read this website,’ said Kat Kanning, publisher of the Keene Free Press and owner of the New Hampshire Underground Web site. Members of the site advocate smaller government and individual liberty and regularly hold peaceful protests throughout the state.