from wired: Just a day before the nation celebrated the life of the once-federally-spied-upon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the New York Times reported that both the Pentagon and the CIA have been issuing subpoenas to domestic financial institutions to investigate possible terrorism. Although the military and the CIA are largely barred from spying on Americans, the Pentagon has stepped up its surveillance of American citizens after September 11 as part of what it calls “force protection” – that is, the protection of military installations on American soil.
Now, Eric Lichtblau and Mark Mazzetti reveal that both agencies have been using “National Security Letters” – which are self-issued subpoenas for documents. These subpoenas are widely used by the FBI since they do not require a judge’s approval. In 2005, the first year the Justice Department was required to report how often they used this power, the DOJ said it issued 9,254 such letters to get information on 3,501 U.S. citizens and green card holders.
Unlike the FBI’s version, the military and CIAs’ are voluntary. Pentagon spokesman Maj. Patrick Ryder said the letters “provide tremendous leads to follow and often with which to corroborate other evidence in the context of counterespionage and counterterrorism,” according to the New York Times. Vice President Dick Cheney defended the use of the power in an interview Sunday, saying the letters don’t violate civil rights since banks could contest them in court.
The Pentagon said it intended to keep the records it gained from the letters and feed the information into a database run by the Counterintelligence Field Office. That office houses a database called TALON that included records on peaceful anti-war protesters. The Pentagon also, in the name of base protection, funded a data-mining study examined ways to study travel database records and commercial data to identify potential travelers. That study used commercial data provided by Acxiom paired with the entirety of JetBlue’s travel database, which the company secretly handed over in September 2002 to the government in violation of its privacy promises.
While the Pentagon has reportedly issued only a relatively small number of such letters – approximately 500 or so -, civil libertarians say the military has no place investigating American citizens on American soil. House Intelligence chair Silvestre Reyes said he plans to hold hearings, and I expect the topic to get attention even in Thursday’s Senate Judiciary committee’s planned grilling of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.