The Pentagon has built a massive security database to help protect U.S. military bases and troops that includes unwarranted information on Iraq war opponents and peace activists in the United States, a defense official said on Wednesday.
The official said the database included police reports and law enforcement tips in a legitimate domestic security effort, but that it had mistakenly swept up and kept information on people who were not threats to launch terror attacks.
“We held onto things that should have been expunged because they weren’t a threat,” the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone planned to send a letter to Congress explaining the error and promising to clean up the database and protect the privacy of innocent persons, the official added.
NBC television reported on Tuesday that it had obtained a database that indicated the military might be collecting information on Americans who oppose the war and may be also monitoring peace demonstrations.
The database, obtained by the network, lists 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the United States over a 10-month period and includes four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, some aimed at military recruiting, NBC’s Nightly News said.
Such a document would be the first inside look at how the Pentagon has stepped up intelligence collection in the United States since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
AMERICANS WARY SINCE VIETNAM
Americans have been wary of any monitoring of anti-war activities since the Vietnam era when it was learned that the Pentagon spied on anti-war and civil rights groups and individuals.
Congress held hearings in the 1970s and recommended strict limits on military spying inside the United States.
The Defense Department has already acknowledged the existence of a counterintelligence program known as the “Threat and Local Observation Notice” (TALON) reporting system.
The system, the department said earlier, is designed to gather “non-validated threat information and security anomalies indicative of possible terrorist pre-attack activity.”
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters on Wednesday that the department had a right to get information from the police to help protect troops and bases. But he did not confirm the building of a major database.
“The Defense Department does have legitimate interests in protecting its installations, in protecting its people,” Whitman said.
“And to the extent that they use information collected by law enforcement agencies to do that, that’s an appropriate activity of the United States military,” he added in response to questions on the NBC report.
Whitman stressed that any collection of civilian law enforcement information was “within very narrow parameters of force protection” under the law.
Whitman declined to comment on specifics of the broadcast report, which quoted what NBC said was a secret briefing document as concluding: “We have noted increased communication between protest groups using the Internet,” but not a “significant connection” between incidents.
(Additional reporting by JoAnne Allen)
© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.