Homeland Security finds itself embroiled in Texas politics

It's hard enough watching out for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. But now officials at the Homeland Security Department apparently need to be on the lookout for nefarious political motives as well.

After responding to an appeal from a Texas Department of Public Safety officer for help in locating a missing plane with government officials on board, officials at the Homeland Security Department's Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center in Riverside, Calif., find themselves defending their actions.

When asked to help locate a small plane owned by state Rep. Peter Laney, the former Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives, they thought they were doing a good deed. Apparently, they were being used to help track down state Democrats boycotting the state legislature to prevent a vote on a controversial redistricting measure. State Republicans, who control the legislature and the governor's office, have been trying to round up the wayward Democrats, some of whom fled to Oklahoma.

After a May 14 story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram indicated the Homeland Security Department was involved in trying to apprehend the missing Democrats, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., fired off an angry letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

"If this report is accurate, I am outraged that Homeland Security resources are being used to help settle partisan political scores," Lieberman said in a statement demanding a full investigation of the incident.

According to a statement from the Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center, the Homeland Security troops were duped.

"From all indications, this request from the Texas Department of Public Safety was an urgent plea for assistance from a law enforcement agency trying to locate a missing, lost, or possibly crashed aircraft," the statement said, adding that at no time did the interdiction center, which routinely responds to requests for assistance from law enforcement agencies, launch any aircraft in response to the request. They weren't able to locate the missing aircraft.

In the meantime, Lieberman is still awaiting an explanation from Ridge, according to spokeswoman Leslie Phillips.