- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Army counterintelligence agents improperly tried to gather information on civilian participants at a University of Texas conference on Islam, the Army said yesterday.

Two agents of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command from Fort Hood went to the law school on Feb. 9, seeking information on people who attended a conference titled “Islam and the Law: The Question of Sexism.”

Conference organizers and civil rights activists accused the Army of spying on the conference and using tactics meant to stifle free speech.

The Army is prohibited from investigating civilians unless the FBI waives its jurisdiction or requests assistance, and that was not done, said Deborah Parker, a spokeswoman for the Army Intelligence and Security Command, based at Fort Belvoir, Va.

“It was a lapse in judgment,” Miss Parker said. “It was not something that was done maliciously.”

The conference, which had taken place a week earlier, was open to the public. Conference organizers said they refused to give the agents a list of participants and a video of the event.

Maunica Sthanki, co-chairman of the UT Chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild, said the conference did not merit military suspicion.

“The message I think that the Army and the government are sending is that anybody who chooses to learn about Islam is going to be investigated,” she said. “I don’t think the American public should accept that message of fear, and that’s why the issue isn’t over.”

Douglas Laycock, an associate dean for research at the law school, said the Army agents overreacted. “You can’t be suspicious of everyone who attends an academic conference,” he said.

An Army statement said the agents were acting on a report by two Army lawyers who attended the conference , where they were assigned to deal with legal issues involving the U.S. military and the Muslim population.

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