Spies Like Us?

By Don Thompson, The Associated Press Published: August 16, 2005 SACRAMENTO—The Army’s inspector general has determined that an intelligence unit of the California National Guard was not established to spy on U.S. citizens and did not illegally gather information about a Mother’s Day peace rally, state and federal Guard officials said.

The California Guard’s acting adjutant general, Brigadier General John R. Alexander, said Monday the confidential report clears the Guard of allegations that triggered an ongoing state Senate investigation and subpoenas.

Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove, said a series of e-mails and actions suggests the nation’s largest National Guard force resorted to the same type of civilian monitoring that characterized Vietnam War-era protests. During the 1960s and 1970s, the military collected information on more than 100,000 Americans.

“There was never the intent, desire or decision to ever collect intelligence information on any U.S. citizen,” Alexander said in a written release. “Any statement to the contrary is flat wrong.”

The confidential report itself might never be made public, Guard and Army officials said.

Jack Harrison, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau that oversees states’ guard units, said the bureau agrees with Alexander’s characterization. He said no further action is necessary.

Alexander took temporary command after Major Gen. Thomas Eres resigned abruptly in June amid questions about whether he falsified a marksmanship test and tried to arrange a military flight for a Republican group. The Army also had been reviewing potential accounting and operational improprieties, but Monday’s report is limited to the intelligence unit, California Guard spokesman Col. Dave Baldwin said.

Baldwin, who was briefed on the report’s contents, said it concluded that “there was no intelligence gathering or spying at the Mother’s Day rally by the National Guard.” He also said the investigation found that creation of the intelligence unit complied with federal laws and Army regulations, and that there was “no serious violation of intelligence oversight.”

Baldwin said there might have been minor administrative errors but didn’t have specifics.

As a precaution, Alexander is ordering Guard intelligence units to review what information can and can’t legally be collected.

Dunn was unconvinced, in part because he believes the legal terminology used in Alexander’s announcement could be used to hide indirect surveillance activity and record-keeping by the Guard.

“I’m concerned that the Guard has been playing a game with us on this issue,” Dunn said.

As for the inspector general’s conclusion, “This is a little bit like the fox saying there aren’t any hens in the hen house _ at least not any more,” Dunn said.

He noted that the inspector general cleared the Army of wrongdoing during the Vietnam War era, only to have illegal spying unearthed by the U.S. Senate.

Natalie Wormeli, an organizer with the anti-war activist group CodePink, said she wasn’t surprised that the Army’s internal investigation cleared the Guard but urged Dunn to continue his investigation in case state laws were violated.

Her group, along with Gold Star Families for Peace and Raging Grannies, were the subject of an e-mail chain originating in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s press office in which the Guard promised to monitor their Capitol peace rally. The Guard says that amounted to nothing more than watching television coverage of the event.

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