State intelligence reports released Thursday by the Schwarzenegger administration include material suggesting that the governor’s anti-terrorism operation was interested in the actions of the Minuteman volunteer border patrol group.
The reports also include a cryptic reference to “suspicious conversations at a mosque” in San Diego.
State officials released more than 80 intelligence reports prepared for the state Office of Homeland Security, in response to The Times’ disclosure that two reports carried information about domestic political protests ranging from antiwar gatherings to protect-the-seals rallies.
Large sections of the reports shown to reporters had been removed. The homeland security office said the blocked material was “law-enforcement sensitive.”
Time for reviewing the documents was limited, but the material visible to reporters contained no other information on political protests.
One report, dated Feb. 23, carried two references to a Los Angeles Times article about the Minuteman Project on a cover sheet, with a reprint of the article inside. It detailed the Minuteman attempt to take part in a Patriots Day parade in Laguna Beach.
After the mention of the Minuteman Project, members of a state anti-terrorism partnership apparently wrote in comments. Those remarks were removed from the report that was made public.
In an interview on a radio talk show last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the Minuteman volunteers, commending the group for performing a public service at a time when federal border patrols have been lacking.
“I think they’ve done a terrific job,” Schwarzenegger said in the interview. “They’ve cut down the crossing of illegal immigrants a huge percentage.”
Chris Bertelli, a spokesman for the homeland security office, said Thursday that the article on the Minuteman Project appeared in the first intelligence report prepared by an outside contractor, SRA International of Fairfax, Va.
SRA is being paid $4 million this year under its contract with the state. The company has access to classified information and performs intelligence analysis for the homeland security office, Bertelli said.
He said the Minuteman Project was probably mentioned in the February report because “obviously, issues of border security are something we’re very concerned with.”
Later reports contain no material on the project, he said: “The determination ... was made that this probably doesn’t have an impact on homeland security.”
In boldface type on the cover page, a report dated June 22 includes a terse reference to “suspicious conversations at a mosque, San Diego, Calif.” There was no elaboration. Other material related to that incident had been removed from the report.
Bertelli said SRA got that piece of information from a private database shared among various government agencies fighting terrorism. The mosque conversations relate to an ongoing investigation, he said.
As the reports were made public for viewing, civil liberties groups said Schwarzenegger must give a fuller accounting of the work of his homeland security office, a 53-person operation whose role is to help protect California from terrorist attack.
Last week, the governor’s office said it was wrong for homeland security to collect information about peace protests.
“The governor’s strong statements deploring the tracking of protesters is important,” said Mark Schlosberg, a policy director at the San Francisco office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “But equally important is full disclosure of information and strong regulations to guard against abuses.
“It’s very troubling that the Office of Homeland Security apparently has been tracking this information on protesters and demonstrators exercising their 1st Amendment rights.”
At the same time, U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) sent a letter to Schwarzenegger, state homeland security Director Matthew Bettenhausen and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff demanding to know more about how officials responsible for staving off attacks are doing their jobs.
Miller asked if government’s practice was to “monitor peaceful political activities in California or elsewhere in the United States and to keep records on those peaceful political activities?”
Within California terrorism-fighting circles, some were uncomfortable with the homeland security office’s practices. The office is part of an anti-terrorism partnership that includes the California Highway Patrol and Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer’s office.
In April, an official in the attorney general’s office, Allen Benitez, wrote a letter to one of his bosses warning that the state homeland security office was compiling material on political groups.
Though homeland security officials contend that SRA International mistakenly included information about political protests, Benitez wrote in his letter that they were acting at the direction of the homeland security office.
He wrote that “OHS analysts have been tasked by OHS management to collect information on the Minutemen, a political organization advocating for immigration reform and tighter border control,” according to a copy of his memo obtained by The Times.
In reply, Gary Winuk, a deputy in the homeland security office, wrote a memo saying Benitez’s remarks were “categorically false.”