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Reuters June 28, 2005

California lawmaker probes National Guard spy claim

By Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California lawmaker who controls funding for the state National Guard said on Tuesday he will hold hearings into whether a guard unit that analyzes terrorism threats spied on anti-war protesters.

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

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

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

"My hope is that this unit's activities are within the bounds of the law and do not involve spying on United States citizens, however, the mere creation of this specialized unit including the generalized description of its purpose by military officials makes it look suspicious," Dunn said.

A Guard spokesman declined to comment on the hearings but said concerns about domestic spying stem from confusion over how the Guard monitored an anti-war rally.

In a story about the threat assessment unit, the San Jose Mercury News reported top Guard officials had tracked the rally on Mother's Day.

Lt. Col. Douglas Hart said the special unit was not involved in monitoring the rally. Instead, the Guard's joint-operations center had planned to watch the rally on television and record it, Hart said.

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

The Guard unit that handles terrorist threats does not collect information but analyzes it for other state agencies, Hart said.

Analysts said Vietnam-era memories of domestic spying by the military and intelligence agencies, coupled with the post-Sept. 11 emphasis on homeland security, are contributing to anxiety in some quarters about surveillance.

However, with its troops on active duty in Iraq, it is unlikely the National Guard is interested in domestic espionage, which also is barred by federal law and Defense Department and U.S. regulations, they said.

"I think they're mainly focused on going to Iraq," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense policy group in Alexandria, Virginia.


Copyright 2005, Reuters