June 29, 2005

California lawmaker probes National Guard spy claim

By Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California lawmaker whocontrols funding for the state National Guard said on Tuesdayhe will hold hearings into whether a guard unit that analyzesterrorism threats spied on anti-war protesters.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said it also isinvestigating the matter.

"We are aware of it and concerned about it and are lookinginto it," said spokeswoman Margita Thompson.

State Sen. Joe Dunn said reports about the unit'smonitoring of war protesters needed to be taken seriously andwould be taken up during legislative hearings next month.

"My hope is that this unit's activities are within thebounds of the law and do not involve spying on United Statescitizens, however, the mere creation of this specialized unitincluding the generalized description of its purpose bymilitary officials makes it look suspicious," Dunn said.

A Guard spokesman declined to comment on the hearings butsaid concerns about domestic spying stem from confusion overhow the Guard monitored an anti-war rally.

In a story about the threat assessment unit, the San JoseMercury News reported top Guard officials had tracked the rallyon Mother's Day.

Lt. Col. Douglas Hart said the special unit was notinvolved in monitoring the rally. Instead, the Guard'sjoint-operations center had planned to watch the rally ontelevision and record it, Hart said.

"That's the extent of our monitoring," Hart said, notingthe center routinely records programs mentioning the Guard. "Wedon't spy on people.

The Guard unit that handles terrorist threats does notcollect information but analyzes it for other state agencies,Hart said.

Analysts said Vietnam-era memories of domestic spying bythe military and intelligence agencies, coupled with thepost-Sept. 11 emphasis on homeland security, are contributingto anxiety in some quarters about surveillance.

However, with its troops on active duty in Iraq, it isunlikely the National Guard is interested in domesticespionage, which also is barred by federal law and DefenseDepartment and U.S. regulations, they said.

"I think they're mainly focused on going to Iraq," saidJohn Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense policy group inAlexandria, Virginia.