Sunday, January 22, 2006

I feel safe now


U.S. accused of spying on those who disagree with Bush policies

BY WILLIAM E. GIBSON

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

WASHINGTON - While the White House defended domestic surveillance as a
safeguard against terrorism, a Florida peace activist and several
Democrats in Congress accused the Bush administration on Friday of
spying on Americans who disagree with President Bush's policies.

Richard Hersh, of Boca Raton, Fla., director of Truth Project Inc. of
Palm Beach County, told an ad hoc panel of House Democrats that his
group and others in South Florida have been infiltrated and spied upon
despite having no connections to terrorists.

"Agents rummaged through the trash, snooped into e-mails, packed Web
sites and listened in on phone conversations," Hersh charged. "We know
that address books and activist meeting lists have disappeared."

The Truth Project gained national attention when NBC News reported last
month that it was described as a "credible threat" in a database of
suspicious activity compiled by the Pentagon's Talon program. The
listing cited the group's gathering a year ago at a Quaker meeting house
in Lake Worth, Fla., to talk about ways to counter military recruitment
at high schools.

Talon is separate from the controversial domestic-surveillance program
conducted by the National Security Agency. Bush has acknowledged signing
orders that allow the NSA to eavesdrop without the usual court warrants,
prompting an outcry from many in Congress.

Bush plans to tour the NSA on Wednesday as part of a campaign to defend
his handling of the program.

"This is a critical tool that helps us save lives and prevent attacks,"
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Friday. "It is limited and
targeted to al-Qaida communications, with the focus being on detection
and prevention."

The Defense Department's Talon program collects data from a wide variety
of sources, including military personnel and private citizens, Pentagon
spokesman Greg Hicks said.

"They are unfiltered dots of information about perceived threats," Hicks
said. "An analyst will look at that information. And what we are trying
to do is connect the dots before the next major attack."

To Hersh and some members of Congress, the warrant-less surveillance and
Talon are all a part of domestic-spying operations that threaten civil
liberties of average Americans and put dissenters under a cloud of
suspicion.

"Neither you nor anybody in that (Quaker) church had anything to do with
terrorism," said Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla. "The fact is, the Truth
Project may have a philosophy that is adverse to the political
philosophy and goals of the president of the United States. And as a
result of that different philosophy, the president and the secretary of
defense ordered that your group be spied upon.

"There should not be a single American who today remains confident that
it couldn't happen to them."

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