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Security Reports to Be Aired

Governor will release them to the media to ease concerns about monitoring of protests.

July 02, 2006|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said Saturday he was ordering the release of dozens of intelligence reports prepared for the state Office of Homeland Security -- a step that comes as lawmakers from both parties are denouncing a practice in which state intelligence agents compiled information about political and antiwar protests and rallies.

Schwarzenegger administration officials say there were only two cases in which state homeland security agents collected material on political protests in recent months. Releasing the full trove of intelligence reports will prove that point, assuring the public that the practice was not more widespread, according to those officials.

State lawmakers from both parties said it was inexcusable that two such intelligence reports from March and April carried details about the location and purpose of political rallies throughout California.

The two reports, obtained by The Times, were described in a news article published Saturday.

"The governor believes that any inappropriate information gathering like this is totally unacceptable," Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger's communications director, said in an interview.

The governor's homeland security director, Matthew Bettenhausen, said Saturday that the material was mistakenly included in the reports by a private contractor working for his office.

Schwarzenegger will allow the media to review the approximately 60 intelligence reports that have been prepared for the homeland security director since March, but no copies will be allowed, Mendelsohn said.

Before the reports can be reviewed in coming days, officials will remove all "law-enforcement-sensitive information" -- anything covering "ongoing investigations" and related "safety threats," said Chris Bertelli, spokesman for the homeland security office.

Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) said in an interview that there should be a "very, very high threshold" for removing anything and that the reports should not be sanitized. The congressman attended an antiwar rally in Walnut Creek in March that was listed in one of the intelligence reports, in a section called "Upcoming California Protests."

State legislators said they were pleased that the governor was releasing the material.

Yet some said they were troubled by what they viewed as a continuing pattern of aggressive intelligence gathering by his administration.

Last year, the state Senate held hearings into news accounts that a California National Guard intelligence unit had tracked a Mother's Day antiwar rally.

State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), who led the hearings on the National Guard, said the homeland security episode is fresh proof of the need for greater oversight.

Dunn said he wants to create a special legislative intelligence committee that would monitor California's fast-growing homeland security apparatus. Lawmakers serving on the committee would receive a special security clearance. He said he has broached the idea with the Senate leadership.

"I am very pleased that they're willing to share all the reports," Dunn said. "However, I was assured after the one spying incident in May 2005 by the California National Guard that the practice was not more widespread at the state level.

"We now discover that those assurances were patently false. I hope the current assurances are a little more truthful than the ones of a year ago."

The homeland security office quickly arranged a news conference Saturday morning to offer some reassurances of its own.

Bettenhausen, a Schwarzenegger appointee, said there was no surveillance of any of the political demonstrations listed in the intelligence reports.

One of the rallies was staged by animal rights activists protesting the slaughter of Canadian seals. Another was a women's peace protest aimed at showing support for a Salinas woman facing charges of trespassing at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Several other protests concerned the war in Iraq.

The two reports from March and April that mentioned the political demonstrations were shared with the California Highway Patrol and the attorney general's office, but not with any other law enforcement entity, Bettenhausen said.

These two agencies are part of a state partnership set up to combat terrorism and gather intelligence.

Bettenhausen described how the material made its way into the reports.

A state contractor retained by homeland security issued a report March 7. That document included summaries of 10 rallies set for later in the month. Listed were the date of the event, the purpose, the location, the expected number of people, the source of the information, and "officer safety issues."

When they saw that, homeland security officials told the contractor not to include such information again, Bettenhausen said.

Yet similar material was part of a report dated April 10. Again, homeland security officials saw it and told the contractor to leave out such information in the future, Bettenhausen said.

Since then, none of the reports prepared for Bettenhausen have included information on political protests, homeland security officials said.

Bettenhausen said his office "does not tolerate the gathering of inappropriate information and we never will. We will not stand for it."

The contractor used by the state homeland security agency is SRA International Inc., which is being paid up to $16 million to provide counterterrorism analysis.

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