Thursday, August 16, 2007

National Technical Means To Be Used Domestically

Posse Comitatus, anyone?

The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.

A program approved by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security will allow broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery beginning as early as this fall, with the expectation that state and local law enforcement officials will eventually be able to tap into technology once largely restricted to foreign surveillance. ...

Although the federal government has long permitted the use of spy-satellite imagery for certain scientific functions -- such as creating topographic maps or monitoring volcanic activity -- the administration's decision would provide domestic authorities with unprecedented access to high-resolution, real-time satellite photos.

They could also have access to much more. A statement issued yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security said that officials envision "more robust access" not only to imagery but also to "the collection, analysis and production skills and capabilities of the intelligence community." ...

Under the new program, the DHS will create a subordinate agency to be known as the National Applications Office. The new office, which has gained the backing of congressional intelligence and appropriations committees, is responsible for coordinating requests for access to intelligence by civilian agencies. Previously, an agency known as the Civilian Applications Committee facilitated access to satellite imagery for geologic study.

Oversight of the department's use of the overhead imagery data would come from officials in the Department of Homeland Security and from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and would consist of reviews by agency inspectors general, lawyers and privacy officers. "We can give total assurance" that Americans' civil liberties will be protected, Allen said. "Americans shouldn't have any concerns about it."

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