Monday, November 28, 2005

Pentagon pushes for bigger domestic spying role

Walter Pincus discusses legislative initiatives by the administration to give the Pentagon unprecedented access to surveillance information on U.S. citizens.

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....

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. |Washington Post|

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