Home­land Se­cu­rity aban­dons satel­lite sur­veil­lance pro­gram

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY AU­DREY HUD­SON

The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment said June 23 that it will not use satel­lites for do­mes­tic-ter­ror­ism sur­veil­lance, how­ever the tech­nol­ogy can con­tinue to be used to re­spond to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

The Na­tional Applications Of­fice (NAO) was cre­ated by the depart­ment in 2007 to take over map­ping re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and was au­tho­rized to ex­pand the tech­nol­ogy’s use for the preven­tion and re­sponse to a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

The ex­panded pro­gram was au­tho­rized by Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, how­ever it was never op­er­a­tional.

Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano reached the de­ci­sion to shut­ter the pro­gram af­ter a five-month re­view and dis­cus­sions with law en­force­ment of­fi­cials and mem­bers of Congress who said it would tram­ple civil lib­erty rights.

“This action will al­low us to fo­cus our ef­forts on more ef­fec­tive in­for­ma­tion shar­ing pro­grams that bet­ter meet the needs of law en­force­ment, pro­tect the civil lib­er­ties and pri­vacy of all Amer­i­cans, and make our coun­try more se­cure,” Miss Napoli­tano said.

Ac­cord­ing to a June 21 let­ter to Miss Napoli­tano from a na­tional po­lice or­ga­ni­za­tion ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times, the of­fice is “not an is­sue of ur­gency” to law en­force­ment.

“Our goal is ef­fec­tive shar­ing of law en­force­ment in­for­ma­tion that pro­tects the pri­vacy and civil lib­er­ties of Amer­i­cans and we are thus com­mit­ted to a na­tional frame­work of pri­vacy and civil lib­erty pro­tec­tions,” said the let­ter from the Ma­jor Cities Chiefs As­so­ci­a­tion signed by Los An­ge­les po­lice Chief William J. Brat­ton.

In­stead, the as­so­ci­a­tion urged Miss Napoli­tano to fo­cus the depart­ment on in­for­ma­tion­shar­ing with state and lo­cal agen­cies.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Repub­li­can and rank­ing mem­ber of the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, said Miss Napoli­tano’s de­ci­sion is a “very big mis­take.”

“This is def­i­nitely a step back in the war on ter­ror,” Mr. King said. “In the last two years, I have never had one lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cial raise ob­jec­tions to it. But we have a let­ter from Brat­ton dated Sun­day [June 21] now say­ing they don’t sup­port it? I don’t buy it.”

How­ever, Rep. Ben­nie G. Thomp­son, Mis­sis­sippi Demo­crat and com­mit­tee chair­man, wel­comed the an­nounce­ment.

“The sec­re­tary’s de­ci­sion is an en­dorse­ment of this com­mit­tee’s long-held po­si­tion on the NAO,” Mr. Thomp­son said.

“From the very beginning, our mem­bers were the first to shine a light on this poorly con­ceived pro­posal that lacked the nec­es­sary civil lib­er­ties pro­tec­tions or law en­force­ment util­ity,” Mr. Thomp­son said.

His­tor­i­cally, the tech­nol­ogy was used to map nat­u­ral dis­as­ters such as earth­quakes, hur­ri­canes and floods, to as­sist agen­cies such as the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

Charles Allen, chief in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer of the Of­fice of In­tel­li­gence and Anal­y­sis, told the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee in a Sept. 6, 2007, hear­ing, that law en­force­ment rou­tinely ac­cessed the im­agery tech­nol­ogy.

“The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity for ex­am­ple, used over­head im­agery in 2005 to ex­am­ine ar­eas dam­aged by Hur­ri­canes Ka­t­rina and Rita to de­ter­mine ar­eas most in need of as­sis­tance,” Mr. Allen said.

The Se­cret Ser­vice uses over­head im­agery to iden­tify ar­eas of vul­ner­a­bil­ity based on to­pog­ra­phy and to build large maps to sup­port se­cu­rity plan­ning. Fed­eral law en­force­ment agen­cies have used im­agery to iden­tify po­ten­tial vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of fa­cil­i­ties used for high-pro­file events such as the Su­per Bowl.

“Th­ese are all valid, law­ful uses [. . . ] that en­hance our abil­ity to pro­tect our na­tion — whether the threats are man­made or nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring,” Mr. Allen said.

Af­ter the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, an in­de­pen­dent study ap­pointed by the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence rec­om­mended that the of­fice’s scope be ex­panded be­yond civil uses to in­clude home­land se­cu­rity and law en­force­ment.

Mr. King said the tech­nol­ogy would have been ben­e­fi­cial at Waco to see be­hind the com­pound walls and dur­ing the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. sniper at­tacks.

Ear­lier this month, Rep. Jane Har­man, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to pre­vent the depart­ment from us­ing satel­lite im­agery for law en­force­ment pur­poses by block­ing fu­ture fund­ing.

“As an ill-con­ceived ves­tige of the dark side coun­tert­er­ror­ism poli­cies of the Bush years, it was past time for the NAO to go,” Mrs. Har­man said.

“I don’t be­lieve the le­gal and con­sti­tu­tional ques­tions it raised could ever be ad­e­quately ad­dressed, and hear­ing from Sec­re­tary Napoli­tano that it will be closed is mu­sic to my ears,” she said.

In April, the Con­gres­sional Quar­terly re­ported that Mrs. Har­man was over­heard on a 2005 Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency wire­tap telling a sus­pected Is­raeli agent she would lobby Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials to re­duce es­pi­onage-re­lated charges against two for­mer of­fi­cials of the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

In ex­change, the agent said he would back Mrs. Har­man in her bid to be­come chair­woman of the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee.

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