Pentagon Spies Build New Database on Foreign and Domestic Threats

The Pentagon's main spy outfit, the Defense Intelligence Agency, is building a new database which will consolidate in one system "human intelligence" information on groups and individuals—potentially including Americans—collected by DIA operatives in United States and abroad.

A notice published earlier this week in the government's regulatory bulletin, the Federal Register, says the manager of the system will be a little-known DIA unit called the Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC).

Records held in the database, the notice says, could include information on "individuals involved in, or of interest to, DoD intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and counternarcotic operations or analytical projects as well as individuals involved in foreign intelligence and/or training activities." Among the data to be stored: "information such as name, Social Security Number (SSN), address, citizenship documentation, biometric data, passport number, vehicle identification number and vehicle/vessel license data." Actual intelligence reports from the field and analytical material which would help "identify or counter foreign intelligence and terrorist threats to the DoD and the United States" will also be included.

"That's potentially a lot of information," Donald Black, chief spokesman for DIA, acknowledged in an interview with Declassified. But he said that material entered into the new database would be carefully reviewed—as regularly as every 90 days—to ensure that out-of-date, discredited, or irrelevant data on individuals would be destroyed if there was no longer a good reason to keep it.

Black said that the new database would not include the highly controversial aspects of TALON, a database assembled by a spooky Pentagon spy outfit called Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), set up during the George W. Bush administration. The Pentagon shut down TALON in 2007 after revelations that CIFA, whose mission included collating intelligence collected by local law-enforcement agencies and military-intelligence units on potential threats to U.S. defense installations, had assembled files on peace marchers and other nonviolent antiwar protestors. The Pentagon later said that CIFA would be broken up. Apart from its alleged monitoring of antiwar activists, the unit became tainted by a major contracting scandal that resulted in the imprisonment of former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. As NEWSWEEK reported here, some defense experts were alarmed when CIFA attempted—and failed—to take over a Pentagon agency responsible for inspecting the security arrangements of defense contractors, and maintaining security-clearance files on millions of contractor employees. Critics feared that such a merger could result in the creation of a military secret police.

Two U.S. officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that while CIFA had been disbanded on paper, many of its personnel and some of its functions were transferred to DCHC. One of the officials said that DCHC is now in the same office space that CIFA once occupied, in a complex near suburban Washington's Reagan National Airport.

A defense official, who also did not want to be named, insisted that the new unit, unlike CIFA, had no law-enforcement powers. He maintained that the new system would not repeat abuses similar to those which occurred with TALON. But the official said that theoretically, stored data could include information on domestic activists or protestors who might not be violent at present, but could be deemed to pose a potential threat of violence in future. The official said that unlike TALON, the new DCHC database would not include field reports generated by military counterintelligence agencies with domestic field offices, such as the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, the Navy Criminal Investigative Service, or the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. However, if those agencies were to ask DIA or DCHC to become involved in one of their cases, then information about the case could well be entered in the new DCHC database. The official had no estimate of how many records on individual subjects—including Americans—would be stored.

Some civil-liberties experts are already expressing dismay about the new DIA database. Mike German, a former FBI investigator who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Washington Post's Spy Talk blog that while the functions of the new database were still murky, "We do know that DIA took over 'offensive counterintelligence' for the DoD once CIFA was abandoned… It therefore makes sense that this new DIA data base would be collecting the same types of information that CIFA collected improperly, so Americans should be just as concerned."