Saturday, July 30, 2005

Somewhere, Frank Church Is Screaming 

An item we missed last week, brought to our attention by Zemblan patriot T.C.: One month ago today we reported that a secret unit of the California National Guard had been collecting intelligence on American civilians, including a group of Gold Star families who were planning an antiwar rally for Mother's Day. State Senator Joe Dunn, whose special committee in 2001 held Enron Corp. in contempt, has since subpoenaed various documents as part of a probe relating to the secret unit -- but the Guard is showing no great eagerness to cooperate:
A state senator frustrated with what he called "stonewalling" by the California National Guard said Tuesday he would launch contempt hearings against the state's military unit for failing to turn over documents.

Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Garden Grove, sought the documents as part of his probe into the Guard's new controversial intelligence unit. After squaring off with a top Guard official and a lawyer for the unit Tuesday, Dunn also threatened to seek subpoenas against dozens of current and former top Guard officials.

The hearing was the first since the Times Sacramento Bureau reported the existence of the Information Synchronization, Knowledge Management and Intelligence Fusion program last month. Internal Guard e-mails show the unit had high-level interest in a small Mother's Day anti-war rally at the Capitol.

The exchanges Tuesday were sometimes heated.

"Does the Guard have files on U.S. citizens?" Dunn asked George O'Connell, outside counsel for the Guard.

"Senator, I don't understand what you mean by 'files,'" O'Connell responded.

An exasperated Dunn then repeated his question to the Guard's Lt. Col. Joseph Righello. "I don't know," Righello responded.

After the hearing, Dunn told reporters he was concerned the program may be part of something much larger and more sinister. He said he'd been contacted by several current and former Guard officials from other states since launching the investigation, and was attempting to confirm reports that multiple state Guards had established similar units since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

"The question is, was there a federally-inspired program, post 9-11, to get around a law that prevents domestic spying ... it appears that could be a possibility here" . . . .

Before the hearing, the U.S. Army also dealt the committee a blow saying that a computer hard drive and a hand-held Blackberry used by the retiring California Guard colonel who oversaw the fledgling intelligence unit was federal property, and not subject to the subpoena.

The hard drive was erased the same day Dunn requested the Guard preserve all documents related to the unit.
As Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) told the Sacramento Bee, "I was just reflecting back on grade school, when we were taught that the military authority of this nation is always subordinate to the civil authority. That is a fundamental concept of our American republic. It is starting to appear to me that that is a view not shared within the upper ranks of the California National Guard, and I find that very disturbing."

It's not that the Guardsmen don't respect the authority of the courts. They're just taking a page from the Pentagon's Abu Ghraib playbook.

UPDATE (8/1): As much as it pains us to link to Fox News . . . .
The Department of Defense has developed a new strategy in counterterrorism that would increase military activities on American soil, particularly in the area of intelligence gathering.

The move is sparking concern among civil liberties advocates and those who fear an encroaching military role in domestic law enforcement . . . .

Critics say the fears raised by the Pentagon are being used as a justification for the military to conduct wider, more intrusive surveillance on American citizens.

"Do we want, as a free people, with the notion of privacy enshrined in the Constitution and based on the very clear limits and defined role of government, to be in a society where not just the police, but the military are on the street corners gathering intelligence on citizens, sharing that data, manipulating that data?" asked former Rep. Bob Barr (search ), R-Ga., a constitutional law expert and civil libertarian.

"This document provides a blueprint for doing just that."

Barr said the new strategy is a back-door means of following through with a 2002 plan to create a massive, centralized information database using public and private records of individuals, called "Total Information Awareness." Congress killed TIA in 2003 because of civil liberties and privacy concerns.

Critics say they believe much of TIA lives on in some form through smaller, undisclosed military contracts. This latest plan, they say, is one way of jump-starting TIA's initial goals.

"This is TIA back with a vengeance," said Barr. "What they have come up with here is a much vaguer and much broader concept that sounds more innocuous. [The Pentagon] is getting much smarter in how to sell these things."

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