[Marxism] Pentagon domestic spying

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jan 23 07:23:27 MST 2006


URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10965509/site/newsweek/
The Other Big Brother
The Pentagon has its own domestic spying program. Even its leaders say the 
outfit may have gone too far.
By Michael Isikoff
Newsweek

Jan. 30, 2006 issue - The demonstration seemed harmless enough. Late on a 
June afternoon in 2004, a motley group of about 10 peace activists showed 
up outside the Houston headquarters of Halliburton, the giant military 
contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. They were there to 
protest the corporation's supposed "war profiteering." The demonstrators 
wore papier-mache masks and handed out free peanut-butter-and-jelly 
sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they left work. The idea, according 
to organizer Scott Parkin, was to call attention to allegations that the 
company was overcharging on a food contract for troops in Iraq. "It was 
tongue-in-street political theater," Parkin says.

But that's not how the Pentagon saw it. To U.S. Army analysts at the 
top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the peanut-butter 
protest was regarded as a potential threat to national security. Created 
three years ago by the Defense Department, CIFA's role is "force 
protection"—tracking threats and terrorist plots against military 
installations and personnel inside the United States. In May 2003, Paul 
Wolfowitz, then deputy Defense secretary, authorized a fact-gathering 
operation code-named TALON—short for Threat and Local Observation 
Notice—that would collect "raw information" about "suspicious incidents." 
The data would be fed to CIFA to help the Pentagon's "terrorism threat 
warning process," according to an internal Pentagon memo.

A Defense document shows that Army analysts wrote a report on the 
Halliburton protest and stored it in CIFA's database. It's not clear why 
the Pentagon considered the protest worthy of attention—although organizer 
Parkin had previously been arrested while demonstrating at ExxonMobil 
headquarters (the charges were dropped). But there are now questions about 
whether CIFA exceeded its authority and conducted unauthorized spying on 
innocent people and organizations. A Pentagon memo obtained by NEWSWEEK 
shows that the deputy Defense secretary now acknowledges that some TALON 
reports may have contained information on U.S. citizens and groups that 
never should have been retained. The number of reports with names of U.S. 
persons could be in the thousands, says a senior Pentagon official who 
asked not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

CIFA's activities are the latest in a series of disclosures about secret 
government programs that spy on Americans in the name of national security. 
In December, the ACLU obtained documents showing the FBI had investigated 
several activist groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of 
Animals and Greenpeace, supposedly in an effort to discover possible 
ecoterror connections. At the same time, the White House has spent weeks in 
damage-control mode, defending the controversial program that allowed the 
National Security Agency to monitor the telephone conversations of U.S. 
persons suspected of terror links, without obtaining warrants.

Last Thursday, Cheney called the program "vital" to the country's defense 
against Al Qaeda. "Either we are serious about fighting this war on terror 
or not," he said in a speech to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative 
think tank. But as the new information about CIFA shows, the scope of the 
U.S. government's spying on Americans may be far more extensive than the 
public realizes.

It isn't clear how many groups and individuals were snagged by CIFA's 
dragnet. Details about the program, including its size and budget, are 
classified. In December, NBC News obtained a 400-page compilation of 
reports that detailed a portion of TALON's surveillance efforts. It showed 
the unit had collected information on nearly four dozen antiwar meetings or 
protests, including one at a Quaker meetinghouse in Lake Worth, Fla., and a 
Students Against War demonstration at a military recruiting fair at the 
University of California, Santa Cruz. A Pentagon spokesman declined to say 
why a private company like Halliburton would be deserving of CIFA's 
protection. But in the past, Defense Department officials have said that 
the "force protection" mission includes military contractors since soldiers 
and Defense employees work closely with them and therefore could be in danger.

CIFA researchers apparently cast a wide net and had a number of 
surveillance methods—both secretive and mundane—at their disposal. An 
internal CIFA PowerPoint slide presentation recently obtained by William 
Arkin, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who writes widely about 
military affairs, gives some idea how the group operated. The presentation, 
which Arkin provided to NEWSWEEK, shows that CIFA analysts had access to 
law-enforcement reports and sensitive military and U.S. intelligence 
documents. (The group's motto appears at the bottom of each PowerPoint 
slide: "Counterintelligence 'to the Edge'.") But the organization also 
gleaned data from "open source Internet monitoring." In other words, they 
surfed the Web.

That may have been how the Pentagon came to be so interested in a small 
gathering outside Halliburton. On June 23, 2004, a few days before the 
Halliburton protest, an ad for the event appeared on houston.indymedia.org, 
a Web site for lefty Texas activists. "Stop the war profiteers," read the 
posting. "Bring out the kids, relatives, Dick Cheney, and your favorite 
corporate pigs at the trough as we will provide food for free."

Four months later, on Oct. 25, the TALON team reported another possible 
threat to national security. The source: a Miami antiwar Web page. "Website 
advertises protest planned at local military recruitment facility," the 
internal report warns. The database entry refers to plans by a south 
Florida group called the Broward Anti-War Coalition to protest outside a 
strip-mall recruiting office in Lauderhill, Fla. The TALON entry lists the 
upcoming protest as a "credible" threat. As it turned out, the entire event 
consisted of 15 to 20 activists waving a giant BUSH LIED sign. No one was 
arrested. "It's very interesting that the U.S. military sees a domestic 
peace group as a threat," says Paul Lefrak, a librarian who organized the 
protest.

Arkin says a close reading of internal CIFA documents suggests the agency 
may be expanding its Internet monitoring, and wants to be as surreptitious 
as possible. CIFA has contracted to buy "identity masking" software that 
would allow the agency to create phony Web identities and let them appear 
to be located in foreign countries, according to a copy of the contract 
with Computer Sciences Corp. (The firm declined to comment.)

Pentagon officials have broadly defended CIFA as a legitimate response to 
the domestic terror threat. But at the same time, they acknowledge that an 
internal Pentagon review has found that CIFA's database contained some 
information that may have violated regulations. The department is not 
allowed to retain information about U.S. citizens for more than 90 
days—unless they are "reasonably believed" to have some link to terrorism, 
criminal wrongdoing or foreign intelligence. There was information that was 
"improperly stored," says a Pentagon spokesman who was authorized to talk 
about the program (but not to give his name). "It was an oversight." In a 
memo last week, obtained by NEWSWEEK, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon 
England ordered CIFA to purge such information from its files—and directed 
that all Defense Department intelligence personnel receive "refresher 
training" on department policies.

That's not likely to stop the questions. Last week Democrats on the Senate 
intelligence committee pushed for an inquiry into CIFA's activities and who 
it's watching. "This is a significant Pandora's box [Pentagon officials] 
don't want opened," says Arkin. "What we're looking at is hints of what 
they're doing." As far as the Pentagon is concerned, that means we've 
already seen too much.

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