WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Wednesday it is reviewing its use of a classified database of information about suspicious people and activity inside the United States after a news report said the database listed activities of anti-war groups that were not a security threat to Pentagon property or personnel.
Pentagon spokesmen declined to discuss the matter on the record but issued a written statement Wednesday evening that implied — but did not explicitly acknowledge — that some information had been handled improperly.
The Pentagon "views with the greatest concern any potential violation" of its policy governing the collection and handling of unvalidated information on suspected domestic intelligence threats, the statement said. It added that Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, ordered a full review of the system for handling such information to ensure that it complies with Pentagon policies and federal law.
Cambone also ordered a review of whether Pentagon polices are being applied properly with respect to reporting and storing information about "U.S. persons" — people, not necessarily U.S. citizens, inside the United States. And he ordered the database to be reviewed "to identify any other information that is improperly in the database," according to the Pentagon statement.
The House and Senate intelligence committees are to receive letters Thursday spelling out these actions, officials said.
The Pentagon was responding to a report Tuesday by NBC News, which said it obtained a 400-page document generated by an obscure Pentagon agency that analyzes intelligence reports on suspicious domestic activity that includes at least 20 references to U.S. citizens, plus information on anti-war meetings and protests.
A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, acknowledged that anti-war group activities had been included in the database.
Earlier, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he had not determined whether the 400-page document was authentic.
"What I can tell you is that the Defense Department does have legitimate interests in protecting its installations, in protecting its people, and to the extent that they use information collected by law enforcement agencies to do that, that's an appropriate activity of the United States military," Whitman said.
The military's intelligence-gathering efforts must pertain directly to protection of Pentagon property or people, he said.
"The allegation that the department is somehow interested in conducting domestic surveillance is not consistent with our policies," he added.
NBC News said the database lists a meeting in 2004 of The Truth Project in Lake Worth, Fla., where activists planned a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. It listed the meeting as a "threat" and one of more than 1,500 "suspicious incidents" across the country over a recent 10-month period.
The NBC report also said the database includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation or recruitment center.
The database was generated by an obscure Pentagon agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity, a 3-year-old outfit whose size and budget are classified secret. Some have portrayed its activities as reminiscent of the 1960s when the Pentagon collected information on anti-Vietnam war groups and peace activists.
The Pentagon increased its counterintelligence efforts in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. An intelligence reporting system developed by the Air Force, called the Threat and Local Observation Notice, or TALON, was put into effect across the Defense Department in 2002. Its purpose was to assemble and share "non-validated domestic threat information," according to a Pentagon fact sheet.
"The TALON is designed to capture non-validated threat information and security anomalies indicative of possible terrorist pre-attack activity," it said. "Reportable events include nonspecific threat to DoD interests; suspected surveillance of DoD facilities and personnel," tests of security, unusual repetitive activity, bomb threats and "any other suspicious activity," it added.
The Counterintelligence Field Activity was established in February 2002 and charged with providing counterintelligence support to protect Pentagon personnel, resources, critical information and other assets. It also was set up to help protect "U.S. interests against foreign influence and manipulation, as well as to detect and neutralize espionage against the department," according to a Dec. 1, 2005 memo released Wednesday.