October 06, 2005

It's back!

Given Dubya's tendency to want to solve domestic problems by handing them over to the military, any expansion of the US military's domestic role makes us really nervous, especially when the administration is trying to keep the public from noticing that expansion.

That's what's going on with a bill to give the military new domestic intelligence-gathering powers that's working its way through Congress. Under the version of the annual intelligence bill that's been approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Defense Department would be able to use its intelligence agents to recruit people in the US as informants without revealing that they're doing this work for the US government. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball point out that this provision had been in last year's intelligence bill, but was removed because of public opposition. However, that opposition didn't discourage the administration slipped the provision into this year's bill — without any public discussion.

At the same time, the Senate intelligence panel also included in the bill two other potentially controversial amendments — one that would allow the Pentagon and other U.S. intelligence agencies greater access to federal government databases on U.S. citizens, and another granting the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] new exemptions from disclosing any "operational files" under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). "What they are doing is expanding the Defense Department's domestic intelligence activities in secret — with no public discussion," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil-liberties group that is often critical of government actions in the fight against terrorism....

[Martin] said the DIA recruitment provision must be looked at in the context of two other measures tucked into the Senate intelligence authorization bill. One of them specifically grants the DIA a blanket exemption from having to search any of its 'operational files' when it receives a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request. There is already such a FOIA exemption for CIA operational files. But Martin contended that some of the DIA's activities that are currently not covert would be covered by the new exemption, thereby extending a greater cone of secrecy around the agency....

Another little-noticed provision of the bill would create a four-year pilot program that would allow U.S. intelligence agencies to have access to data collected about U.S. residents by other government agencies and covered by the Privacy Act. The FBI can already obtain many such records — such as pilot licenses or Transportation Department licenses for driving hazardous-waste materials or other government permits and applications — for law-enforcement purposes. The new Senate intelligence provision would allow U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the CIA and the DIA, or "parent" agencies such as the Pentagon itself, to collect such information deemed by the agency director to be useful in intelligence gathering related to international terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. No court order would be required for the information to be shared. [Emaphasis added]

DIA representative Don Black says there's no need to worry about the new provisions. According to Black, they only give the DIA the same investigative powers that the FBI and CIA already have and that these powers are — yes — needed to fight terrorism.

Whenever the administration is using the 'war on terrorism' as an excuse, you know they're hiding the real reason for a policy change. And, given Dubya's recently expressed desire involve the military in disaster relief and use it to enforce quarantines in the event of an avian flu epidemic, the administration's continuing attempts to expand the domestic powers of military intelligence agencies is unlikely to have a benign reason.

Via Newsweek.

Posted by Magpie at October 6, 2005 12:55 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |