Monday, January 23, 2006

Surveillance Daily News -- Houston edition

For those who have attended a Halliburton protest in downtown Houston, be advised:

The demonstration seemed harmless enough. Late on a June afternoon in 2004, a motley group of about 10 peace activists showed up outside the Houston headquarters of Halliburton, the giant military contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. They were there to protest the corporation's supposed "war profiteering." The demonstrators wore papier-mache masks and handed out free peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they left work. The idea, according to organizer Scott Parkin, was to call attention to allegations that the company was overcharging on a food contract for troops in Iraq. "It was tongue-in-street political theater," Parkin says.

But that's not how the Pentagon saw it. To U.S. Army analysts at the top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the peanut-butter protest was regarded as a potential threat to national security. Created three years ago by the Defense Department, CIFA's role is "force protection" — tracking threats and terrorist plots against military installations and personnel inside the United States. In May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy Defense secretary, authorized a fact-gathering operation code-named TALON — short for Threat and Local Observation Notice — that would collect "raw information" about "suspicious incidents." The data would be fed to CIFA to help the Pentagon's "terrorism threat warning process," according to an internal Pentagon memo.

A Defense document shows that Army analysts wrote a report on the Halliburton protest and stored it in CIFA's database. It's not clear why the Pentagon considered the protest worthy of attention — although organizer Parkin had previously been arrested while demonstrating at ExxonMobil headquarters (the charges were dropped). But there are now questions about whether CIFA exceeded its authority and conducted unauthorized spying on innocent people and organizations. A Pentagon memo obtained by NEWSWEEK shows that the deputy Defense secretary now acknowledges that some TALON reports may have contained information on U.S. citizens and groups that never should have been retained. The number of reports with names of U.S. persons could be in the thousands, says a senior Pentagon official who asked not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

CIFA's activities are the latest in a series of disclosures about secret government programs that spy on Americans in the name of national security. In December, the ACLU obtained documents showing the FBI had investigated several activist groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Greenpeace, supposedly in an effort to discover possible ecoterror connections. At the same time, the White House has spent weeks in damage-control mode, defending the controversial program that allowed the National Security Agency to monitor the telephone conversations of U.S. persons suspected of terror links, without obtaining warrants.

Read the rest.

There's a variety of First Amendment exercises on the local calendar for the rest of January: L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer is shilling his book -- err, speaking to the Houston World Affairs Council in the Westin Oaks Hotel on Thursday, January 26 and drawing a protest outside; The World Can't Wait is organizing "Drown Out the Lies" demonstrations on January 31st, the night President* Bush speaks to the Nation about its State (including a march on KHOU, the CBS affiliate here); and a small group of people will be at Senator Kay Bailey Perjury Technicality's office later this week to find out how she intends to vote on Borkalito.

I suppose my file is going to be getting thicker. Of course since we're no longer talking J. Edgar Hoover and it's on disk, I should probably hope to reach a megabyte or two shortly, not including the photos.

I have added the following signature to my e-mail ( and you are free to do the same):

LEGAL NOTICE: Due to Presidential Executive Order, the National Security Agency may have read this email without warning, warrant, or notice. They may have done so without any judicial or legislative oversight. You have no recourse nor protection save to call for the impeachment of the current President.

And if you want to see exactly how the FBI has implemented this computer monitoring program, then click here.

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