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US military spied on Planned Parenthood, civilian phone calls

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United States military intelligence spied on Planned Parenthood and other domestic groups as part of US security preparations for the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, according to a recently declassified military document obtained by a civil liberties group Thursday.

The document (PDF – page 98), drafted by a Pentagon Deputy Inspector General whose name is redacted, was included in more than 800 pages released to the Electronic Frontier Foundation as part of a Freedom of Information Act Request. They include reports from the Pentagon’s Intelligence Oversight Board that were submitted to the Defense Secretary from 2001 to 2007.

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Referring to an incident where military intelligence personnel distributed information about FBI spying on the 2002 Olympics, the inspector general’s office tersely remarked that an “intelligence oversight violation occurred.”

“The document… contained US Persons data in referring to an reporting on organizations (Planned Parenthood, the white supremacist group National Alliance) and their involvement in protests and literature distribution,” the inspector’s office wrote. “Also noted was the report contained a large section labeled “GENERAL CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.” Collection and dissemination of US Persons information by military intelligence assets is not allowed unless this information constitutes “Foreign Intelligence.”

“The inclusion of these two sections in this intelligence product is clearly outside the purview of military intelligence assets and should be handled through law enforcement or Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection channels,” the inspector’s office added. “An inquiry into the circumstances of this violation was conducted and the result will be forwarded via separate correspondence.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation also notes that military intelligence spied on the anti-war group Alaskans for Peace and Justice in 2005 (pages 122-137), and that NORAD had “procedural problems” relating to spying on “US Persons” (pp. 257-258).

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Despite a clear violation of military protocol and probable violation of US law, such reports are rarely made public. These documents were only made public under the Freedom of Information Act and were not scheduled for release.

“Intelligence oversight reporting is rarely disclosed to the public,” EFF’s Nate Cardozo noted in a posting about the documents on Thursday.

“Much of the reported improper activity consisted of intelligence gathering on so-called “U.S. Persons,” including citizens, permanent residents and U.S.-based organizations,” Cardozo added. “Although Defense agencies are generally prohibited from collecting such information (except as part of foreign intelligence or counter-intelligence activity), it is apparent from the unredacted reports released to EFF that some DoD components have had chronic difficulty complying with that prohibition.”

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Wired‘s Kim Zetter notes that the documents provide no context or background about how or why the Pentagon spied on Planned Parenthood and other groups.

“The reports provide little context for the information that’s disclosed, leaving the public to wonder about the nature and extent of the information and surveillance revealed in them,” Zetter wrote. “Pertaining to the Planned Parenthood members, for example, the oversight report provides no explanation about how the information was collected. Nor does it indicate why the information was collected.”

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In another possible legal violation, military officers listened into civilian cellphone calls in 2007. Zetter explains:

Another oversight document discusses an incident involving the interception of civilian cellphone conversations of U.S. persons in April 2007. During a field exercise at Fort Polk, Louisiana, a Signals Intelligence noncommissioned officer operating a SIGINT collection system intercepted the cell phone calls, though the document doesn’t indicate if they were intercepted on U.S. soil or outside U.S. borders.

Initial reports indicated that the officer listened to the conversations for entertainment purposes, and the incident was reported to the National Security Agency. But the inspector-general document indicates that the officer never admitted to this and indicates only that he may have listened to some conversations “longer than necessary to do his job.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation has more analysis and details of the newly released documents here.

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