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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Just how much domestic spying does a country need, anyway?

The Pentagon apparently doesn't think that the US has enough spying going on, as it slowly moves forward with plans to merge two military intelligence units that operate inside the country. One is the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), a post-9/11 agency that's been caught spying on anti-war demonstrations and other consitutionally protected political activities, and keeping records on the people involved. The other is the Defense Security Service (DSS), which has long been responsible for evaluating the security arrangements of defense contractors. The DSS, not incidentally, has millions of files containing information about contractors' employees, collected during background investigations.

Newsweek's Mark Hosenball has been looking into the proposed merger and has found plenty of reasons to worry about its effects:

Pentagon insiders and privacy experts fear that if CIFA merges with, or, in effect, takes over DSS, there would be a weakening of the safeguards that are supposed to regulate the release of the estimated 4.5 million security files on defense-contractor employees currently controlled by DSS. Those files are stored in a disused mine in western Pennsylvania.

According to one knowledgeable official, who asked for anonymity because of the extreme sensitivity of the subject, since its creation CIFA has on at least a handful of occasions requested access to the secret files stored in the mine without adequate explanation. As a result, the source said, DSS rejected the requests. A merger between CIFA and DSS would weaken those internal controls, the source said.

A CIFA merger with DSS could also alter the job responsibilities of the 280 inspectors employed by DSS to inspect security arrangements and procedures at defense contractors' offices. According to the official source, these inspectors are responsible for making sure that contractors have taken proper measures to protect classified information. But if DSS merges with CIFA, there are fears that CIFA will pressure the DSS inspectors to expand their mandate to include inspecting contractors to see if they are protecting information that could be considered "sensitive but unclassified"—a term the Bush administration has tried to use to expand restrictions on access to government records.... [And by] acquiring control of the DSS inspector force, a merged CIFA-DSS would also have something that CIFA at the moment claims not to have, which is a force of field investigators.

And, if that's not enough, it's also been suggested that the merged agency should be moved to the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, where the FBI already has its main labs and training facility.

Let's review:
  • The merged agencies would have files on millions of Americans from day one.

  • They'd have field investigators that could snoop into peoples' lives and activities, and generate even more files.

  • One of the agencies has already been caught spying on people who oppose government policies.

  • The merged agency could wind up being located right by important facilities of another federal outfit with a history of domestic spying problems: the FBI.

If that's not a recipe for a secret police force, I don't know what is.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:05 AM | Get permalink




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