Pentagon Expanding Its Domestic Surveillance Activity
Fears of Post-9/11 Terrorism Spur Proposals for New Powers
Washington Post |
November 27, 2005
By Walter Pincus
The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.
The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.
The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department's push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public.
"We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview.
Wyden has since persuaded lawmakers to change the legislation, attached to the fiscal 2006 intelligence authorization bill, to address some of his concerns, but he still believes hearings should be held. Among the changes was the elimination of a provision to let Defense Intelligence Agency officers hide the fact that they work for the government when they approach people who are possible sources of intelligence in the United States.
Modifications also were made in the provision allowing the FBI to share information with the Pentagon and CIA, requiring the approval of the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, for that to occur, and requiring the Pentagon to make reports to Congress on the subject. Wyden said the legislation "now strikes a much fairer balance by protecting critical rights for our country's citizens and advancing intelligence operations to meet our security needs."
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the data-sharing amendment would still give the Pentagon much greater access to the FBI's massive collection of data, including information on citizens not connected to terrorism or espionage.
The measure, she said, "removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." She said the Pentagon's "intelligence agencies are quietly expanding their domestic presence without any public debate."
Lt. Col. Chris Conway, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said that the most senior Defense Department intelligence officials are aware of the sensitivities related to their expanded domestic activities. At the same time, he said, the Pentagon has to have the intelligence necessary to protect its facilities and personnel at home and abroad.
"In the age of terrorism," Conway said, "the U.S. military and its facilities are targets, and we have to be prepared within our authorities to defend them before something happens."
Among the steps already taken by the Pentagon that enhanced its domestic capabilities was the establishment after 9/11 of Northern Command, or Northcom, in Colorado Springs, to provide military forces to help in reacting to terrorist threats in the continental United States. Today, Northcom's intelligence centers in Colorado and Texas fuse reports from CIFA, the FBI and other U.S. agencies, and are staffed by 290 intelligence analysts. That is more than the roughly 200 analysts working for the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and far more than those at the Department of Homeland Security.
In addition, each of the military services has begun its own post-9/11 collection of domestic intelligence, primarily aimed at gathering data on potential terrorist threats to bases and other military facilities at home and abroad. For example, Eagle Eyes is a program set up by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which "enlists the eyes and ears of Air Force members and citizens in the war on terror," according to the program's Web site.
The Marine Corps has expanded its domestic intelligence operations and developed internal policies in 2004 to govern oversight of the "collection, retention and dissemination of information concerning U.S. persons," according to a Marine Corps order approved on April 30, 2004.
The order recognizes that in the post-9/11 era, the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity will be "increasingly required to perform domestic missions," and as a result, "there will be increased instances whereby Marine intelligence activities may come across information regarding U.S. persons." Among domestic targets listed are people in the United States who it "is reasonably believed threaten the physical security of Defense Department employees, installations, operations or official visitors."
Perhaps the prime illustration of the Pentagon's intelligence growth is CIFA, which remains one of its least publicized intelligence agencies. Neither the size of its staff, said to be more than 1,000, nor its budget is public, said Conway, the Pentagon spokesman. The CIFA brochure says the agency's mission is to "transform" the way counterintelligence is done "fully utilizing 21st century tools and resources."
One CIFA activity, threat assessments, involves using "leading edge information technologies and data harvesting," according to a February 2004 Pentagon budget document. This involves "exploiting commercial data" with the help of outside contractors including White Oak Technologies Inc. of Silver Spring, and MZM Inc., a Washington-based research organization, according to the Pentagon document.
For CIFA, counterintelligence involves not just collecting data but also "conducting activities to protect DoD and the nation against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, assassinations, and terrorist activities," its brochure states.
CIFA's abilities would increase considerably under the proposal being reviewed by the White House, which was made by a presidential commission on intelligence chaired by retired appellate court judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.). The commission urged that CIFA be given authority to carry out domestic criminal investigations and clandestine operations against potential threats inside the United States.
The Silberman-Robb panel found that because the separate military services concentrated on investigations within their areas, "no entity views non-service-specific and department-wide investigations as its primary responsibility." A 2003 Defense Department directive kept CIFA from engaging in law enforcement activities such as "the investigation, apprehension, or detention of individuals suspected or convicted of criminal offenses against the laws of the United States."
The commission's proposal would change that, giving CIFA "new counterespionage and law enforcement authorities," covering treason, espionage, foreign or terrorist sabotage, and even economic espionage. That step, the panel said, could be taken by presidential order and Pentagon directive without congressional approval.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the CIFA expansion "is being studied at the DoD [Defense Department] level," adding that intelligence director Negroponte would have a say in the matter. A Pentagon spokesman said, "The [CIFA] matter is before the Hill committees."
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a recent interview that CIFA has performed well in the past and today has no domestic intelligence collection activities. He was not aware of moves to enhance its authority.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has not had formal hearings on CIFA or other domestic intelligence programs, but its staff has been briefed on some of the steps the Pentagon has already taken. "If a member asks the chairman" -- Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) -- for hearings, "I am sure he would respond," said Bill Duhnke, the panel's staff director.