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DPS Tries To Deny Open Records Video Request

AUSTIN (AP) – The Texas Department of Public Safety, citing protection of public property from terrorism, is trying to keep secret the video surveillance tapes of the Governor’s Mansion the day it burned.

The DPS wrote Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last week asking for a ruling on whether the tapes must be released to The Associated Press. The AP requested the video the day of the fire using the Texas Public Information Act.

At least three other news organizations also asked for copies of the surveillance tapes shortly after fire severely damaged the 152-year-old mansion the morning of June 8.

DPS contends the tapes are exempt from disclosure because state homeland security laws allow information to be kept confidential if it “relates to the specifications, operating procedures, or location of a security system used to protect public or private property from an act of terrorism or related criminal activity.”

Investigators have not classified the Governor’s Mansion fire as terrorism, but the security system in question protects against potential terrorist acts, DPS assistant general counsel Jeff Lopez wrote.

Disclosure of the video would “reveal the clarity, range, angle, zoom capabilities, panning capabilities and fields of view of those cameras, as well as their ability to record in little or no light, whether the cameras have infrared or thermal imaging capability, and whether the cameras record in color or black and white,” Lopez wrote.

“This information would allow a terrorist or related criminal to discern whether and exactly when a person can be detected and recognized in the areas monitored by the cameras in question,” the letter stated.

Releasing the video would reveal whether cameras are real or “dummies;” whether they are constantly running or are motion activated; and for how long videotapes are preserved, the agency contends.

Additionally, DPS said it opposes releasing the video because it could interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation.

No one has been arrested in connection with the fire.

The Attorney General’s Office has 45 days to issue its ruling, spokesman Tom Kelley said Tuesday, without commenting further on the request.

In the past, Abbott’s office has ruled DPS video surveillance tapes from hallways behind the Texas House of Representatives in the Capitol should be available to the public. The DPS is fighting in court to keep House hallway video from the Texas Observer, a news magazine that made an open records request for videotape recorded in May 2005 when legislators debated private school vouchers.

In the Governor’s Mansion video, someone can be seen igniting an object and throwing it onto the porch of the building, fire investigators have already revealed. Investigators say the suspect was wearing a ball cap, a dark shirt, work-type gloves and blue jeans or cargo-style pants.

The building sustained heavy damage to its roof and columned front.

Only 13 of 20 security cameras on the mansion grounds were working when the fire broke out, and a motion sensor system wasn’t working properly, a state official has said.

The DPS pointed out in its letter to Abbott that terrorists have chosen targets for the symbolic value, such as the World Trade Center in New York or the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It said the Governor’s Mansion is the most historic house in Texas and is adjacent to the Texas Capitol.

The letter said DPS receives and investigates numerous threats against the governor.

However, Gov. Rick Perry and his wife, Anita, weren’t living at the mansion – the official residence of the Texas governor – when the fire occurred because it was undergoing $10 million in restoration and maintenance. The Perrys have been living in a private rented home elsewhere in Austin.

The Greek revival-style mansion has been the home of every Texas governor since it was completed in 1856. It is a national historic landmark, and Perry has said he is committed to restoring the home.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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