Published on Wednesday, July 6, 2005 by the Los Angeles Times
Be On Guard for Raging Grannies
by Patt Morrison
|I saw "War of the Worlds" over the weekend, partly to get it over with, like a dental checkup, and partly so Tom Cruise can't now wag his hectoring finger in my face about space aliens.|
And I came away thinking that the heroics in that 117 minutes weren't Cruise's. They belonged to the uniformed extras that I took for the National Guard, citizen-soldiers driving straight into scorched-earth skirmishes with merciless Martians while the rest of America was running screaming in the opposite direction. That's pretty much what the real Guard has been doing in Iraq, sometimes just as lamentably ill-equipped.
Then I get into the office and read about a California National Guard unit that supposedly spent last Mother's Day keeping a spy-eye on protesters at the state Capitol — Raging Grannies, CodePink and a group whose members had relatives killed in Iraq. The San Jose Mercury News quoted an e-mail exchange between Guard officers three days before the protest:
"Sir, Information you wanted on Sunday's demonstration at the Capitol."
"Thanks. Forwarding same to our Intell. folks who continue to monitor."
Zoe Lofgren, the Democratic member of the House from San Jose and ranking member on an intelligence and information-sharing subcommittee, wants to know more. Joe Dunn, the Democratic state senator from Santa Ana, wants documents, files and hearings. The national National Guard is sending someone from D.C. to look into this.
"I want a fair and reasonable inquiry into what they're doing," Lofgren said, whether it's "spying on the mothers of dead soldiers and Raging Grannies," or as the Guard told her, there's a "misunderstanding."
Dunn has already requested every bit of related paper and e-mail and is ready to ask for subpoenas if the Guard balks. Late Tuesday, the Guard told him "it would be inappropriate to provide any details" to him before coordinating with the military's own investigation.
For the sake of argument, let's accept that the Guard was just monitoring the event via news coverage. That would mean two unlikely things: that the Guard — unlike a lot of people in government, starting with Arnold Schwarzenegger — believes what it reads in the paper or sees on TV. And two, that there's real information in video of old ladies waving peace placards. Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Stan Zezotarski told the Mercury News, "Who knows who could infiltrate that type of group and try to stir something up? After all, we live in the age of terrorism ." I must have missed the shot of the septuagenarian wearing the "I Am Really an Al Qaeda Grandma" button.
Another Guard spokesman, Lt. Col. Doug Hart, told me it's all a mix-up and that "intel" is just a gussied-up word meaning any information "We do not spy on people. We don't collect information on people or groups." The Guard was merely keeping a "scrapbook" of news events about itself doing duty at brush fires or Rep. Bob Matsui's funeral. Schwarzenegger's office had alerted the Guard because of protesters' demands that the Guard come home from Iraq. Now, Hart said, people are confusing the Guard's clipping service with its real terrorism intelligence unit at the California Justice Department.
(Were the Schwarzenegger people just being nice to clue in the Guard? Or did their own tetchy history with CodePink protests figure into this?)
Hart, reluctantly, added that Zezotarski's ominous comments were just "an opinion." If that's all there is to it, I'll be mightily relieved. I'd hate to think that the Guard — already spread thin on multiple tours in Iraq — would still muster manpower for a granny-watch.
Here's why we're twitchy. Federal agencies, from the early Cold War into the 1970s, collected dossiers on thousands of blameless Americans. I have the FBI files of a really suspicious character: former LAPD cop and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.
The LAPD ran a similar operation as long ago as the 1920s and as recently as the 1970s. And for 30 years, a state legislative subcommittee kept files on 20,000 Californians, filled with irresponsible and nasty hearsay, sexual innuendo and rumors masquerading as intelligence.
Against that backdrop, "intelligence" and "monitor" are quite rightly red-flag words — "terrorism" could, like "communism" and "anarchism," be used to justify domestic spying.
The California National Guard has important work to do, and more people than those protesters think its soldiers should come home to do it: Protect us here against terrorists, earthquakes, brush fires — and even space invaders.
© 2005 LA Times