The Pentagon’s new intelligence unit’s purpose could raise the valid question of how far the U.S. is moving toward militarized domestic databasing, but its resemblance to a ‘disestablished’ program used to spy on peace activists can reasonably confirm the program was never halted.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) “wants to open a new repository for information about individuals and groups” July 15, as Jeff Stein reported yesterday at his Washington Post blog. The new Foreign Intelligence and Counterintelligence Operation Records (FICOR) unit mirrors one shut down in recent years after civil liberty advocates brought claims it violated the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The claims were confirmed after a court ruled in favor of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit [.pdf] against the Pentagon.
The unit “appears to be a successor to a controversial counterintelligence program that was disbanded in [August] 2008”, the War Deparment’s former Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA). CIFA databased intimate details of non-governmental organizations against imperialism and activists, the FOIA suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed. Mr. Stein outlined the game of musical chairs that followed:
The new Foreign Intelligence and Counterintelligence Operation Records section will be housed in DIA’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center, or D.C.H.C., formed after the demise of the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, according to an announcement that appeared Tuesday in the Federal Register.
The “activity” was disbanded, but evidently not its records database, which seems to be headed to the new unit. One of the criticisms of CIFA was that it vacuumed up raw intelligence on legal protest groups and individuals from local police and military spies.
Ironically, it was President Obama’s designation for the vacated director of national intelligence post—James Clapper, current and then-undersecretary of defense for intelligence—who “ordered an end” to CIFA methods, which included spying on and violating the privacy of “antiwar protesters after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003”, as Joby Warrick reported in April 2008 at the WaPo. His “recommendation to close the agency” was part of his “planned restructuring” of DIA.
“The small agency had drawn widespread criticism from civil liberties groups and some Democratic lawmakers, who contended that it represented an unwarranted expansion of the Pentagon’s domestic spying capability,” Mr. Warrick added.
The D.C.H.C., a Pentagon statement at the time read, “shall not perform any law enforcement functions previously assigned to DoD CIFA”, but Mr. Stein notes the ambiguity in the announcement of FICOR—to the point where one can reasonably hypothesize the purpose is to revive CIFA with a thicker coating of candy:
“It’s a little hard to tell what this is exactly, but we do know that DIA took over ‘offensive counterintelligence‘ for the D.O.D. once CIFA was abandoned,” said Mike German, a former F.B.I. Special Agent who is now policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union. “It therefore makes sense that this new DIA data base would be collecting the same types of information that CIFA collected improperly, so Americans should be just as concerned.”
The Defense Department has also started collecting Suspicious Activity Reports, German pointed out, “which they share with federal, state and local law enforcement through the F.B.I. eGuardian system.”
Tuesday’s announcement in the Federal Register was vague about the kinds of intelligence the new records center will hold.
It said that it would hold information on “individuals involved in, or of interest to, DoD intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism and counter-narcotic operations or analytical projects as well as individuals involved in foreign intelligence and/or training activities.”
The kinds of records it intends to hold, according to the Federal Register, include “Social Security Number (SSN), address, citizenship documentation, biometric data, passport number, vehicle identification number and vehicle/vessel license data.”
Records would be gathered from “Federal, state, local, and tribal entities, foreign intelligence agencies, educational and research institutions, foreign governments and open source literature,” the announcement says.
The new records center would have a broad domestic and homeland security mandate, judging from the announcement.
There is substantial reason to conclude that this datamining will integrate with the previous CIFA database, which will just have a new label on the header, as Mr. Stein further quotes the announcement:
“The system of records includes ad hoc or temporary databases established to support particular investigations, task forces, or analytical projects.”
Considering Mr. Clapper’s fingers in the pie on the shut down of CIFA and the coming-opening of FICOR while posted at the Pentagon, my question is: if the plan was to provide a more pacifying narrative for the CIFA methods, through which unit at the D.I.A. has it been unlawfully datamining non-combatants within the U.S. since August 2008? DIA didn’t just stop, but if records are to be used in future cart-before-the-horse bases for ‘inevitable discovery’ claims from the FICOR database.
When CIFA was “disestablished”, according to a Pentagon statement, it’s “resources and responsibilities” were “transferred” to DIA units—Defense Counterintelligence, or C.I., and the Human Intelligence Center, or HUMINT. The CIFA website‘s been defunct for quite a while, but the creation of FICOR tells us the unit was never disbanded; the public establishment of the entity just went further underground for a while.