Defense Department official: [Divine Strake]...simulating...a low-yield nuclear explosion
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05/06/2006 10:24 PM
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"Absurd" threats. But this expansive view of homeland security has at times also extended to union activists and even library Web surfers. In February 2006 near Washington, D.C., two Montgomery County, Md., homeland security agents walked into a suburban Bethesda library and forcefully warned patrons that viewing Internet pornography was illegal. (It is not.) A county official later called the incident "regrettable" and said those officers had been reassigned. Similarly, in 2004, two plainclothes Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies monitored a protest by striking Safeway workers in nearby San Francisco, identifying themselves to union leaders as homeland security agents.
Further blurring the lines over what constitutes "homeland security" has been a push by Washington for states to identify possible terrorists. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security began requiring states to draft strategic plans that included figures on how many "potential threat elements" existed in their backyards. The definition of suspected terrorists was fairly loose--PTEs were groups or individuals who might use force or violence "to intimidate or coerce" for a goal "possibly political or social in nature." In response, some states came up with alarming numbers. Most of the reports are not available publicly, but U.S. News obtained nine state homeland security plans and found that local officials have identified thousands of "potential" terrorists. There are striking disparities, as well. South Carolina, for example, found 68 PTEs, but neighboring North Carolina uncovered 506. Vermont and New Hampshire found none at all. Most impressive was Texas, where in 2004 investigators identified 2,052 potential threat elements. One top veteran of the FBI's counterterrorism force calls the Texas number "absurd." Included among the threats cited by the states, sources say, are biker gangs, militia groups, and "save the whales" environmentalists.
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