San Jose Mercury News – June 26, 2005
Program raises spying concern
State Guard forms anti-terrorism intelligence unit
By Dion Nissenbaum
SACRAMENTO - Three decades after aggressive military spying on Americans created a national furor, California's National Guard has quietly set up a special intelligence unit that has been given ''broad authority'' to monitor, analyze and distribute information on potential terrorist threats, the Mercury News has learned.
Known as the Information Synchronization, Knowledge Management and Intelligence Fusion program, the project is part of an expanding nationwide effort to better integrate military intelligence into global anti-terrorism initiatives.
Although Guard officials said the new unit would not collect information on American citizens, top National Guard officials have already been involved in tracking at least one recent Mother's Day anti-war rally organized by families of slain American soldiers, according to e-mails obtained by the Mercury News.
Creation of California's intelligence unit is already raising concerns for civil libertarians who point to a string of abuses in the 1960s and 1970s when the military collected information on more than 100,000 Americans, infiltrated church youth groups, posed as reporters to interview activists, monitored peaceful protests and even attended an elementary school Halloween party in search of a ''dissident.''
''The National Guard doesn't need to do this,'' said Christopher Pyle, a former Army intelligence officer who first exposed the military's domestic spying operations in 1970. ''Its job is not to investigate individuals, but to clear streets, protect facilities and help first responders.''
Top Guard officers said that they have no intentions of breaking long-established rules barring the military from gathering information on Americans and that the evolving program is meant to help California and the nation thwart terrorist attacks.
Forming the unit|: Generally, the National Guard is called upon to help the state deal with natural disasters and riots. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have put major strains on the military, which has started drawing more on Guard soldiers to fight overseas. And now Guard units are being integrated into anti-terrorism efforts in the United States.
The intelligence unit was quietly established last year by Major Gen. Thomas Eres, the National Guard leader who was forced by the Schwarzenegger administration to retire earlier this month. Eres left amid allegations that he failed to prove his shooting skills for a trip to Iraq, set up a questionable military flight for a Republican friend's political group, and improperly used money meant to stem the flow of drugs for anti-terrorism programs.
Just before Eres retired, the Guard hired its first director for the intelligence unit who has ''broad authority'' and is expected to ''exercise a high degree of independent judgment and discretion,'' according to the job description obtained by the Mercury News.
Col. Robert J. O'Neill, a veteran intelligence officer who started last week as director of the new program, said he envisions his team as being a one-stop shop for local, state and national law enforcement to share information. Intelligence officers will have access to sensitive national security information that they can analyze and potentially share with state and local law enforcement, he said.
He said his unit would not cross any legal lines into spying on Americans. But the Guard's role in monitoring at least one demonstration has already alarmed civil libertarians….
Tracking the rally: Last month, a group of anti-war activists, including the parents of American soldiers killed in Iraq, held a small Mother's Day rally at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial near the California Capitol to call for the return of all National Guard troops by Labor Day.
Three days before the rally, as a courtesy to the military, an aide in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's press office alerted the Guard to the event, according to e-mails obtained by the Mercury News.
The information was passed up the chain of command directly to Eres and other top Guard officials including Col. Jeff Davis, who oversees O'Neill's operation. In response, Davis indicated that Guard intelligence officers were tracking the rally….
Intelligence centers: The notion of creating intelligence ''fusion centers'' is slowly gaining momentum. Massachusetts is setting up one, but it is housed in the State Police headquarters, not its National Guard.
Currently, federal law allows the U.S. military to gather information on Americans under exceptionally tight restrictions. The intelligence must be essential to its mission, publicly available or related to national security issues.
The Pentagon has created a new operation in Colorado known as the Northern Command to help protect the nation from terrorist attacks. Its leader, Gen. Ralph Eberhart, raised some concerns among civil libertarians last year after telling a National Guard group that ''we can't let culture and the way we've always done it stand in the way'' of gathering intelligence.
Last year, the U.S. military came under fire after it was reported that two Army lawyers in civilian clothes attended a forum on sexism in Islam and later demanded a roster of attendees, along with a videotape of the conference, after being questioned by three Middle Eastern men during the event….