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Army admits error on islam conference

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Army admits error on Islam conference
By Matt Joyce, Associated Press, 3/16/2004

AUSTIN, Texas -- Army Intelligence and Security Command agents overstepped their authority when they sought information on civilian participants at a University of Texas conference on Islam, the Army said.

Two counterintelligence agents from Fort Hood, near Killeen, went to the university's law school on Feb. 9, seeking information on people who attended the conference, "Islam and the Law: The Question of Sexism."

The Army is prohibited from investigating civilians unless the FBI waives its jurisdiction or requests assistance, said Deborah Parker, a spokeswoman for the Army Intelligence and Security Command, based in Fort Belvoir, Va. "It was a lapse in judgment," Parker said yesterday. "It was not something that was done maliciously."

The conference, which had taken place the previous week, was open to the public. Conference organizers said they refused to give the agents a list of participants and a video of the event.

"It is inappropriate for us to invite the public and the student body to come and freely exchange ideas and then to turn around and relay their personal information to the intelligence community," Sahar Aziz, a UT law student, had said last month.

The organizers and civil rights activists accused the Army of spying on the conference and using investigation tactics meant to stifle free speech.

A statement from the Army issued Friday said that the agents were acting on a report by two Army lawyers who attended the conference. The lawyers reported suspicious behavior by a conference participant who persistently questioned their identity, occupation, and status, the statement said. Army rules require its members to report those types of suspicious incidents, Parker said.

But the Fort Hood detachment of the Intelligence and Security Command erred in investigating the incident without first reporting it to command headquarters in Virginia, she said.

Rene Salinas, a spokesman for the bureau's San Antonio field office, said the FBI is not investigating the conference. Parker said the Army is reviewing whether disciplinary action will be taken against the counterintelligence agents.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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