Video: Activism on Alert

msnbc.com
updated 12/16/2005 3:06:56 PM ET 2005-12-16T20:06:56

NBC's senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers recently broke a story that the Pentagon has a database that improperly lists some American anti-war groups, including one based at a Quaker meeting house as threats to our security. 

On Thursday, she joined MSNBC's Chris Matthews on 'Hardball' to discuss the latest in the investigation.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Lisa, what's the latest on this?

LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, basically the latest is that the Pentagon has reversed court.  Officials (Thursday) admitted that some of the information on peaceful, anti-war activists should not have been in the secret database. 

The Pentagon also announced the thorough review of domestic intelligence operations, which are supposed to be limited to collecting information on real threats to U.S. bases and personnel. 

The Pentagon also says that all military intelligence officials will be ordered to take refresher classes on how to properly collect and store intelligence, especially involving U.S. citizens, which is about as close to the Pentagon ever comes, Chris, to admitting that mistakes were made.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let's go to the active voice from the passive voice, because I love people that explains that mistakes were made.  Who in the Pentagon decided to take it upon themselves to go out and dig up information on American peace groups?

MYERS:  Well, that is not clear.  This database is a collection of a lot of databases that are compiled around the government.  Some of them include specific references to FBI reports.  But a number of references, including the ones on some of the anti-war protesters are based on reports by a military intelligence group based in Florida. 

So clearly some of this information was collected by the Pentagon.  Perhaps individuals at a lower level went beyond what they were supposed to do, but that begs the question, where were the safeguards?

MATTHEWS:  I thought the FBI -- I remember back during Vietnam days, people involved in anti-war activities would always be worried about J.  Edgar Hoover coming down on top of them and taking pictures and nailing them one way or the other.  How did the Defense Department elbow its way into this world of domestic intelligence and surveillance?

MYERS:  9/11.  After 9/11 the Defense Department was given limited ability to collect intelligence within this country, only so far as it pertains to protecting U.S. personnel and bases.  And that meeting at the Quaker meeting house that you referred to was actually listed as a threat in this Pentagon database, as a threat to the national security.

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to be a political issue?  We had Bill Nelson on, we didn't get to it in the questioning.  But Bill Nelson apparently is complaining about this as a Democrat running for re-election down there, about this Quaker meeting being put under surveillance, I should say.

MYERS:  I think it will be a political issue, in terms of the larger excesses, the Democrats claim have happened since 9/11 under this administration.  I think there's still a lot of questions to be asked about what the Pentagon has been doing and how it collected this information. 

Now, the Pentagon official said today that so far as they know, no military personnel were actually sent out to spy on or infiltrate anti-war groups but I emphasize, they say, as far as they know.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you know, this is the kind of the thing that all gets wrapped up into whether we win the war in Iraq.  If we win it and things are looking good, people forgive the overzealousness of the Defense Department.  If the war tends to go wrong, then they blame everything on the administration. 

MYERS:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I've seen that before, Lisa.  Thank you much, great reporting.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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