Turning Military Satellites on You

How would you feel if you found out that while the entire nation (read; the national news media) was distracted by the testimony of General Patraeus, while we were all gearing up for a collective reliving of our national case of PTSD on the sixth anniversary of 9/11, that the administration decided to use that opportunity to sneak a whopper of a new domestic spying program under the radar?

Tucked at the end of testimony delivered to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security entitled “Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland: Six Years After 9/11,” Michael Chertoff snuck in this doozy.

National Applications Office

Finally, it is important that we use the technological assets of the Intelligence Community to our greatest advantage. To this end, our Department has established the National Applications Office (NAO) to leverage the assets and capabilities of the Intelligence Community for civil applications, homeland security, and law enforcement purposes, including disaster preparedness, emergency management, and border security.

Our goal is to work with intelligence agencies to improve access to appropriate intelligence products for domestic users at all levels of government. The NAO will not expand existing capabilities or change how these systems are used. This program will also be subject to robust oversight by privacy and civil liberties offices within our Department, the DNI, as well as the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Sounds reasonable enough until you realize that what he was announcing was the creation of a new domestic intelligence organization designed to utilize our nations armada of military spy satellites for domestic intelligence gathering.

Eww, yea, you got it, another warrantless spying program.

There has been little coverage of this story with the exception of two pieces that came out in late August. The details were first leaked by the WSJ

The U.S.’s top intelligence official has greatly expanded the range of federal and local authorities who can get access to information from the nation’s vast network of spy satellites in the U.S.

The decision, made three months ago by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, places for the first time some of the U.S.’s most powerful intelligence-gathering tools at the disposal of domestic security officials. The move was authorized in a May 25 memo sent to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking his department to facilitate access to the spy network on behalf of civilian agencies and law enforcement.

Which was followed the next day by a similar piece in The Washington Post

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.”

But civil liberties groups quickly condemned the move, which Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit activist group, likened to “Big Brother in the sky.” “They want to turn these enormous spy capabilities, built to be used against overseas enemies, onto Americans,” Martin said. “They are laying the bricks one at a time for a police state.”

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, said that the data could be useful but that oversight for the program was woefully inadequate. Enhanced access “shouldn’t be adopted at all costs because it comes with risk to privacy and to the integrity of our political institutions,” he said.

Based on the deafening silence we have heard since one would assume this program had been killed. That is until yesterdays stealth testimony by Chertoff.

As a matter of fact the only comprehensive piece on this program came from the diarist Granny Doc at Daily KOS who on Sunday put up the following:

Beginning in October 2007 the Department of Homeland Security will open a new office called the National Applications Office (NAO) charged with civil/domestic intelligence gathering.

This new division of Homeland Security was conceived entirely by the Executive Branch, with no Congressional input, and will serve as a clearinghouse for requests to access the data provided by military spy satellites, with a resolution of inches, to view the territorial United States.

I have tried for the past 24 hours to find any new news on this program and all I could come up with was this nine page PDF covering the written testimony of Daniel W. Sutherland before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, “Turning Spy Satellites on the Homeland: The Privacy and Civil Liberties Implications of the National Applications Office.” The jist of the testimony is found in the conclusion here:

The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will work with the NAO to establish a firm and certain foundation that provides strong adherence to civil rights and civil liberties. We will closely monitor and address the areas I have mentioned and other issues that may arise. Building upon our success in civil rights and civil liberties compliance and training, and our track record of close cooperation with DHS components, we will work with the DHS Privacy Office, I&A, the Civil Liberties Protection Officer at DNI and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to protect and preserve civil liberties as NAO begins operations to help the government ensure the safety and well-being of our citizens.

So I guess it is safe to assume that this was the CYA that allowed Chertoff to deliver his aforementioned testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security on Monday. That being said, it doesn’t do much to alleviate my concerns about the constitutionality of this program. How somthing of this magnitude with such massive potential for abuse even get past the concept stage without significant oversight review? Have we learned nothing from the past six years?

10 Responses to “Turning Military Satellites on You”

  1. Gee, I’d feel pretty paranoid… he says BEFORE the jump.

  2. What does he say after the jump?

  3. I wonder if my penis is visible from space.

  4. I don’t think the technology is that good yet.

  5. mick says:

    Gawd, these people never quit. If they can’t do it one way, they do it another. And another and another….

    I’d say impeach the pricks but the Dem Congress will just turn around and pass a bill making it legal. Which it almost certainly isn’t now. As for all those Bush “Civil Liberties watchdogs” – Yeah. Right. The Bushies have a great respect for civil liberties, don’t they? Proved it time and again.

  6. mick says:

    Oh, yeah. In my PO’dness, I forgot to say: Nice catch, MT.

  7. See, I’m already way ahead of you guys in the burgeoning Brave New World. I got my government ID card with a little computer chip that has all my vital stats…

    shit, that’s not actually a good thing is it?

  8. mick says:

    Um, that depends. Does it let you into DisneyWorld free?

  9. No, but I get a federal employee discount.

  10. Loanser says:

    Hi!any body help me?
    .viagara and cialis


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