The Defense Department is reviewing its procedures for collecting and saving information on potential threats to its installations in the United States. The review comes after a news report indicated the department maintains a threat database that includes anti-war groups and other activist Americans in possible violation of the law.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says a senior official ordered a review of the classified database on Wednesday, following a report by NBC News that said the 400-page list includes a religion-based peace group, people who have attended meetings to plan anti-war protests, and others who oppose military recruiting at high schools.
Mr. Whitman defended the department's right to protect its installations, but he also acknowledged that much of the information gathered is determined not to be related to any threat, and that some of that information may have been retained in the database when it should have been deleted.
As a result, he says the database will be checked to see if there is information on it that should not be there, policies and procedures related to the data will be reviewed and all staff members who deal with the information will undergo refresher training on how to handle it.
"We will make a determination as to whether or not the policies and procedures are being carried out as appropriate, and whether or not the data is being stored as appropriate and we are going to make sure that people are refreshed on those procedures, the laws and the collection and the storage," he said.
Mr. Whitman says a person or group can get on the database if any Defense Department security officer or intelligence official believes they might be a threat to department facilities or personnel. A department statement issued Wednesday says if the person or organization turns out not to be a threat, it is supposed to be removed from the database within 90 days.
If officials determine that the entry could be a real threat, the information is given to domestic law enforcement agencies for investigation and possible action. The statement says a review of the database was first ordered in October.
There is tremendous sensitivity in the United States about the government, particularly the Defense Department and intelligence agencies, gathering information about people's activities, which are protected by the U.S. constitution. Such activities include attending meetings, making speeches, publishing articles and organizing protests.
During the Vietnam War the government conducted extensive surveillance of anti-war groups. Later, Congress prohibited the practice, unless officials can demonstrate there may be a legitimate threat involved. Domestic surveillance increased after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Mr. Whitman says the intent of the Defense Department effort is to protect its installations and people, not to develop a list of domestic opponents of the government under the guise of protecting national security.