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Plan eases spying rules

Sat., Aug. 16, 2008

Justice wants to alter 1993 standards

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has proposed a new domestic spying measure that would make it easier for state and local police to collect intelligence about Americans, share the sensitive data with federal agencies and retain it for at least 10 years.

The proposed changes would revise the federal government’s rules for police intelligence-gathering for the first time since 1993 and apply to any of the nation’s 18,000 state and local police agencies that receive roughly $1.6 billion each year in federal grants.

Quietly unveiled late last month, the proposal is part of a flurry of domestic intelligence changes issued and planned by the Bush administration. They include a recent executive order that guides the reorganization of federal spy agencies and a pending Justice Department overhaul of FBI procedures for gathering intelligence and investigating terrorism cases within U.S. borders.

Taken together, critics in Congress and elsewhere say, the moves are intended to lock in policies for Bush’s successor and enshrine controversial post-Sept. 11 approaches that some say have fed the greatest expansion of executive authority since the Watergate era.

Supporters say the measures simply codify existing counterterrorism practices and policies endorsed by lawmakers and independent experts such as the 9/11 Commission.

Bush homeland security adviser Kenneth L. Wainstein said, “This is a continuum that started back on 9/11 to reform law enforcement and the intelligence community to focus on the terrorism threat.”

Under the Justice Department proposal for state and local police, published for public comment July 31, law enforcement agencies would be allowed to target groups as well as individuals and to launch a criminal intelligence investigation based on the suspicion that a target is engaged in terrorism or providing material support to terrorists. They also could share results with a constellation of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and others in many cases.

Jim McMahon, deputy executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said proposed changes “catch up with reality” in that those who investigate crimes such as money laundering, drug trafficking and document fraud are best positioned to detect terrorists. He said the rule maintains the key requirement that police demonstrate a “reasonable suspicion” that a target is involved in a crime.

Michael German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the proposed rule may be misunderstood as permitting police to collect intelligence even when no underlying crime is suspected.

The rule also would allow criminal intelligence assessments to be shared outside designated channels whenever doing so may avoid danger to life or property – not only when such danger is “imminent,” as is now required, German said.

On the day the police proposal was put forward, the White House announced it had updated Reagan-era operating guidelines for the U.S. intelligence community. The revised Executive Order 12333 established guidelines for overseas spying and called for better sharing of information with local law enforcement. It directed the CIA and other spy agencies to “provide specialized equipment, technical knowledge or assistance of expert personnel” to support state and local authorities.

And last week, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said the Justice Department will release new guidelines within weeks to streamline and unify FBI investigations of criminal law enforcement matters and national security threats. The changes will clarify what tools agents can employ and whose approval they must obtain.

The recent moves continue a steady expansion of the intelligence role of U.S. law enforcement, breaking down a wall erected after congressional hearings in 1976 to rein in such activity.

The push to transform FBI and local police intelligence operations has triggered wider debate over who will be targeted, what will be done with the information collected and who will oversee such activities.


 

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