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Domestic Military Intelligence Is Back

Washington Post | December 1, 2005

Code Name of the Week: Cornerstone



Yesterday, Walter Pincus reported in The Washington Post about the Defense Department's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), certainly one of the more mysterious Pentagon agencies, and one that is at the center of the Defense Department's expanded programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States. 

Proposals, Pincus said,"would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage." 

Well, CIFA already has these authorities, has its own agents, and collects information on common American citizens under the guise of "sabotage" and "force protection" threats to the military. Since 9/11, functions that were previously intended to protect U.S. forces overseas from terrorism and protecti U.S. secrets from spies have been combined in one super-intelligence function that constitutes the greatest threat to U.S. civil liberties since the domestic spying days of the 1970's.

On May 2, 2003, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz signed a memorandum (large pdf) directing the military to collect and report "non-validated threat information" relating to U.S. military forces, installations or missions. His memorandum followed from the establishment of the Domestic Threat Working Group after 9/11, the intent of which was to create a mechanism to share low-level domestic "threat information" between the military and intelligence agencies.

 It is the military's equivalent of the FBI and intelligence community's post 9/11 shift, and Wolfowitz directed the sharing of reports on ambiguous activity.  This new reporting mechanism -- called TALON for Threat and Local Observation Notice -- applies to seven reporting categories:

  • Non-specific threats
  • Surveillance
  • Elicitation
  • Test of security
  • Unusual repetitive activity
  • Bomb threats
  • Other suspicious activity

According to a classified Standing Joint Force Headquarters-North document on "intelligence sharing" dated July 20, 2005, and obtained exclusively by this washingtonpost.com blogger, collection of intelligence on U.S. persons is allowed by military intelligence units if there is a reason to believe the U.S. person is: 

  • "Connected to international terrorist activities;
  • Connected to international narcotics;
  • Connected to foreign intelligence;
  • A threat to DoD installations, property, or persons; or,
  • The subject of authorized counterintelligence."

In other words, some military gumshoe or over-zealous commander just has to decide that someone is "a threat to" the military. 

Under well-worn intelligence oversight rules, military intelligence units are restricted from collecting information concerning "U.S. persons," but the post 9/11 reality is these restrictions are increasingly meaningless. 

What is more, the post 9/11 redefinition of "counter-intelligence" opens the way for the military to conduct domestic surveillance. Military law enforcement organizations such as the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), the Army Criminal Investigations Division (CID) and its domestic counter-intelligence brigade, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) have increasing domestic duties that straddle the world between "counter-intelligence" and law enforcement, and are the main sources for TALON reporting to CIFA. 

Ever since 1998, when Secretary of Defense William Cohen went crazy building up a cover-your-ass force protection policy, the law enforcement arms have increasingly moved from traditional counter-intelligence missions of going after enemy spies to going after, well, whomever they deem as a "threat" to the military. Overseas, this makes sense, but in the United States, the counter-intelligence/force protection loophole is ripe for abuse. 

The "counter-intelligence" function of CIFA itself is couched to encompass "force protection," according to DOD Directive Number 5105.67, "Counterintelligence Field Activity (DoD CIFA)," February 19, 2002. What is more, the directive states that "in carrying out the mission of these elements, the Director of the DoD CIFA may employ law enforcement personnel, in whole or in part, as appropriate, to carry out the DoD CIFA's law enforcement functions…" 

CIFA is charged with correlating TALON information with all-source intelligence and providing "fused" products. In this regard, fused products are raw law enforcement and FBI reports relating to suspected domestic terrorism, NSA intercepts, and CIA and military intelligence reports that might bear upon domestic security. 

Cornerstone is the new repository for this combined intelligence and TALON threat reporting. It originated in May 2000, when Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre established a requirement to track foreign visitors to DOD installations. Post 9/11, the database came to encompass not intelligence and investigative leads to support foreign visitor tracking, but also "insider threat" information, counter-intelligence, law enforcement support, counter-terrorism, and force protection. Under a new program -- Project Voyager -- the Cornerstone database is being improved to support coordination with local, state and federal law enforcement. 

When one looks at the seven TALON reporting categories, it is clear that what is to be collected is broad enough to encompass virtually anything the military feels is a threat. "Non-specific threats" and "other suspicious activity" can be interpreted to include just about anything.

"Elicitation," for instance, is defined in TALON documents as:

"Any attempts to obtain security-related or military-specific information by anyone who does not have the appropriate security clearance and the need-to-know. Elicitation attempts may be made by mail, fax, telephone, by computer, or in person."

Ask questions of a military person about their tour in Iraq, protest about the presence of military recruiters on campus or at the Mall, engage in lawful protest against the Iraq war, and you could find yourself in the Cornerstone database, forever a "suspect."  Tomorrow I'll write about how this is really happening.

CIFA not only manages the Cornerstone database, but it also "makes the determination whether to release information about U.S. persons to analysts."  In other words, CIFA as both a "counter-intelligence" and law enforcement arm of the Pentagon bridges between two worlds, and is allowed to obtain and store information about American citizens. I hope that there are a lot of lawyers on the staff. 

And there's the rub. One can hardly find out who the director of this organization is, let alone how many people work there are what they are really doing.


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