- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

A Democratic congressman who attended an anti-war protest is asking the Department of Homeland Security to extensively detail its monitoring of political activities.

Rep. George Miller of California said he was outraged when he learned that a March 18 Iraq war protest that he attended in Walnut Creek, Calif., was listed on a briefing used by California’s state Office of Homeland Security. That the protest appeared with nine other political demonstrations on the report of possible threats is a violation of privacy, he said.

“The notion that federal, state or local governments would covertly monitor citizens engaged in peaceful political expression is completely unacceptable and in violation of the fundamental spirit that established our democracy,” Mr. Miller wrote in a letter to officials at both the state and federal homeland security departments.

A spokesman for the state agency said that when the item appeared on the March 7 briefing, officials immediately requested that it be removed and instructed that such information never be included on future briefings.

That briefing never was distributed, and officials said the information was “inappropriate,” as the agency does not collect data on political groups or protests, said Chris Bertelli, assistant deputy director at the California Office of Homeland Security.

A private contractor compiles the briefings as part of a new effort to provide more analysis and ensure that the entire state has a wide understanding of the homeland-security issues on any given day, he said.

Reporters were allowed to view redacted versions of all 82 briefings compiled since the effort began.

“We have never ever monitored a single political group or rally,” Mr. Bertelli said, adding that the state group does not do any investigation or surveillance.

The federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) collects information on any large public gatherings, said Russ Knocke, a DHS spokesman. That should not be misinterpreted as monitoring the attendees, he said.

Mr. Knocke said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Field Intelligence divisions under DHS are responsible for protecting more than 9,000 federal buildings and the 1 million employees working inside them.

“That, quite frankly, is what the taxpayers expect of us,” he said. “In a post-9/11 world, the public would be comforted to know that we maintain appropriate situational awareness of large gatherings of people.”

Mr. Miller has demanded that officials release a “complete and detailed” accounting of the way they compile political activities at the state or federal levels and a justification of any monitoring.

“Government monitoring of peaceful activities serves to intimidate its citizens from exercising their fundamental rights,” Mr. Miller said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said he is “definitely” interested in pursuing the matter further.


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