Military Documents Hold Tips on
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and MARK MAZZETTI
York Times" -- -- WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 — An
antiterrorist database used by the Defense Department in an
effort to prevent attacks against military installations
included intelligence tips about antiwar planning meetings
held at churches, libraries, college campuses and other
locations, newly disclosed documents show.
One tip in the database in February 2005, for instance,
noted that “a church service for peace” would be held in the
New York City area the next month. Another entry noted that
antiwar protesters would be holding “nonviolence training”
sessions at unidentified churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The Defense Department tightened its procedures earlier this
year to ensure that only material related to actual
terrorist threats — and not peaceable First Amendment
activity — was included in the database.
The head of the office that runs the military database,
which is known as Talon, said Monday that material on
antiwar protests should not have been collected in the first
“I don’t want it, we shouldn’t have had it, not interested
in it,” said Daniel J. Baur, the acting director of the
counterintelligence field activity unit, which runs the
Talon program at the Defense Department. “I don’t want to
deal with it.”
Mr. Baur said that those operating the database had
misinterpreted their mandate and that what was intended as
an antiterrorist database became, in some respects, a
catch-all for leads on possible disruptions and threats
against military installations in the United States,
including protests against the military presence in Iraq.
“I don’t think the policy was as clear as it could have
been,” he said. Once the problem was discovered, he said,
“we fixed it,” and more than 180 entries in the database
related to war protests were deleted from the system last
year. Out of 13,000 entries in the database, many of them
uncorroborated leads on possible terrorist threats, several
thousand others were also purged because he said they had
“no continuing relevance.”
Amid public controversy over the database, leads from
so-called neighborhood watch programs and other tips about
possible threats are down significantly this year, Mr. Baur
said. While the system had been tightened, he said he was
concerned that the public scrutiny had created “a huge
chilling effect” that could lead the military to miss
legitimate terrorist threats.
Mr. Baur was responding to the latest batch of documents
produced by the military under a Freedom of Information Act
request brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and
other groups. The A.C.L.U. planned to release the documents
publicly on Tuesday, and officials with the group said they
would push for Democrats, newly empowered in Congress, to
hold formal hearings about the Talon database.
Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U. in New York, said the
new documents suggested that the military’s efforts to glean
intelligence on protesters went beyond what was previously
known. If intelligence officials “are going to be doing
investigations or monitoring in a place where people gather
to worship or to study, they should have a pretty clear
indication that a crime has occurred,” Mr. Wizner added.
The leader of one antiwar group mentioned repeatedly in the
latest military documents provided to the A.C.L.U. said he
was skeptical that the military had ended its collection of
material on war protests.
“I don’t believe it,” said the leader, Michael T. McPhearson,
a former Army captain who is the executive director of
Veterans for Peace, a group in St. Louis.
Mr. McPhearson said he found the references to his group in
the Talon database disappointing but not altogether
surprising, and he said the group continued to use public
settings and the Internet to plan its protests.
“We don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “We’re not doing
The latest Talon documents showed that the military used a
variety of sources to collect intelligence leads on antiwar
protests, including an agent in the Department of Homeland
Security, Google searches on the Internet and e-mail
messages forwarded by apparent informants with ties to
In most cases, entries in the Talon database acknowledged
that there was no specific evidence indicating the
possibility of terrorism or disruptions at the antiwar
events, but they warned of the potential for violence.
One entry on Mr. McPhearson’s group from April 2005, for
instance, described a protest at New Mexico State University
in Las Cruces at which members handed out antimilitary
literature and set up hundreds of white crosses to symbolize
soldiers killed in Iraq.
“Veterans for Peace is a peaceful organization,” the entry
said, but added there was potential that future protests
“could become violent.”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company