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Student protests on a database tracking foreign terrorism
San Francisco Chronicle
Demian Bulwa, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 19,2006

A federal Department of Homeland Security agent passed along information about student protests against military recruiters at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, landing the demonstrations on a database tracking foreign terrorism, according to government documents released Tuesday.

The documents were released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request on behalf of student groups that protested against recruiters who visited their campuses in April 2005.

The students were angry when they turned up in the database of a Pentagon program called Threat and Local Observation Notice, or TALON, which the government started in 2003 as a way to collect data that could help stop terrorist attacks. Officials have acknowledged that the reports on protests should not have been included.

In the Santa Cruz and Berkeley reports, the source of information was listed as an agent for Homeland Security's Federal Protective Service. The reports were filed by the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, the Army's largest counterespionage unit.

"This raises questions about whether the Department of Homeland Security tasked somebody to gather information about anti-war activities," said Mark Schlosberg, police practices policy director for the ACLU's Northern California office.

Dennis O'Connor, a spokesman for the Federal Protective Service, said his agency protects 9,000 federal sites. Agents disseminate publicly available information about protests, he said, but do not investigate them or their organizers, spy on them or try to hinder them. He said he did not know how the information ended up in the terror database.

"If we're not aware of what's going on around us, we can't do our job effectively," he said. "Even if a protest is going to be peaceful, we have to be aware of it."

The reports say the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Francisco had been briefed on the protests. FBI spokeswoman LaRae Quy said the agency had taken no action related to the protests.

The report on the Berkeley protest said the Homeland Security agent received an e-mail on April 18, 2005, announcing a "counter-recruitment" and civil disobedience action three days later, when recruiters would be at a career fair. In a section titled "Agent Notes," the report states, "There is a strong potential for a confrontation at this protest given the strong support for anti-war protests and movements in the past."

NBC News revealed the database in December. The Pentagon acknowledged that the protest reports should not have been included in the database, which now has more than 13,000 entries.

The reports "have been removed," Pentagon spokesman Greg Hicks said Tuesday.

Schlosberg said the ACLU is seeking further information. In the documents released Tuesday, the government blacked out the source of the e-mails to the Homeland Security agent.

E-mail Demian Bulwa at dbulwa@sfchronicle.com.

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