The New York Times reported Tuesday that documents turned up by ACLU Freedom of Information Act requests showed that the antiterrorist database created by the Dept. of Defense's Talon program contains information on such activities as "a church service for peace" and "nonviolence training."[1]  --  The acting director of the counterintelligence field unit that runs the Talon program, Daniel J. Baur, said the information should not have been gathered and that he was not interested in such information.  --  He blamed its existence on misinterpretation by field agents of their mandate, a problem that has now been "fixed."  --  He also asserted that "more than 180 entries in the database related to war protests were deleted from the system last year," Eric Lichtblau and Mark Mazzetti reported.  --  Ironically, Baur is concerned about what he called "'a huge chilling effect' that could lead the military to miss legitimate terrorist threats," when the truly dangerous chilling effect is on constitutionally protected activities of citizens who disagree with government policy and are working to change it.  --  The ACLU is calling on Congress to hold formal hearings about the Talon database....




By Eric Lichtblau and Mark Mazzetti

New York Times
November 21, 2006

WASHINGTON -- An antiterrorist database used by the Defense Department in an effort to prevent attacks against military installations included intelligence tips about antiwar planning meetings held at churches, libraries, college campuses, and other locations, newly disclosed documents show.

One tip in the database in February 2005, for instance, noted that “a church service for peace” would be held in the New York City area the next month. Another entry noted that antiwar protesters would be holding “nonviolence training” sessions at unidentified churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The Defense Department tightened its procedures earlier this year to ensure that only material related to actual terrorist threats -- and not peaceable First Amendment activity -- was included in the database.

The head of the office that runs the military database, which is known as Talon, said Monday that material on antiwar protests should not have been collected in the first place.

“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.”

Amid public controversy over the database, leads from so-called neighborhood watch programs and other tips about possible threats are down significantly this year, Mr. Baur said. While the system had been tightened, he said he was concerned that the public scrutiny had created “a huge chilling effect” that could lead the military to miss legitimate terrorist threats.

Mr. Baur was responding to the latest batch of documents produced by the military under a Freedom of Information Act request brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. The A.C.L.U. planned to release the documents publicly on Tuesday, and officials with the group said they would push for Democrats, newly empowered in Congress, to hold formal hearings about the Talon database.

Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U. in New York, said the new documents suggested that the military’s efforts to glean intelligence on protesters went beyond what was previously known. If intelligence officials “are going to be doing investigations or monitoring in a place where people gather to worship or to study, they should have a pretty clear indication that a crime has occurred,” Mr. Wizner added.

The leader of one antiwar group mentioned repeatedly in the latest military documents provided to the A.C.L.U. said he was skeptical that the military had ended its collection of material on war protests.

“I don’t believe it,” said the leader, Michael T. McPhearson, a former Army captain who is the executive director of Veterans for Peace, a group in St. Louis.

Mr. McPhearson said he found the references to his group in the Talon database disappointing but not altogether surprising, and he said the group continued to use public settings and the Internet to plan its protests.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “We’re not doing anything illegal.”

The latest Talon documents showed that the military used a variety of sources to collect intelligence leads on antiwar protests, including an agent in the Department of Homeland Security, Google searches on the Internet and e-mail messages forwarded by apparent informants with ties to protest groups.

In most cases, entries in the Talon database acknowledged that there was no specific evidence indicating the possibility of terrorism or disruptions at the antiwar events, but they warned of the potential for violence.

One entry on Mr. McPhearson’s group from April 2005, for instance, described a protest at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces at which members handed out antimilitary literature and set up hundreds of white crosses to symbolize soldiers killed in Iraq.

“Veterans for Peace is a peaceful organization,” the entry said, but added there was potential that future protests “could become violent.”