End in Sight for Pentagon Intelligence Unit?

By Laura Spadanuta

The Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) office is expected to be closed down pending a review of the agency's intelligence architecture, according to The New York Times. The office was established by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after 9-11.

CIFA came under fire in 2005 when reports surfaced regarding its Talon database, ostensibly created to gather information about "potential threats to military facilities and personnel," according to The Washington Post, but which also included information about antiwar protests at churches, schools, and meeting halls, although the protests did not pose a threat to the military. That database was closed last year.

The Pentagon’s senior intelligence official, James R. Clapper, has recommended to Mr. Gates that the counterintelligence field office be dismantled and that some of its operations be placed under the authority of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the government officials said.

Pentagon officials said Mr. Gates had yet to approve the recommendation .... Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said the recommendation to close the office had nothing to do with its troubled history. The move is aimed, Colonel Ryder said, at “creating efficiencies and streamlining” Pentagon efforts to thwart operations by foreign intelligence services and terror networks.

CIFA was also implicated in a 2005 scandal involving Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-CA), who resigned from Congress after taking bribes from military contractors (some of the contracts were for CIFA programs).

Privacy advocates are concerned that the dismantling of the office would be only "cosmetic," and that CIFA's operations would actually just be farmed out to other agencies.  That concern is based on similar occurrences in the past, such as with the controversial Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, which lost funding in 2003 amid intense criticism and privacy concerns. Wall Street Journal writer Siobhan Gorman recently wrote an article asserting that the National Security Agency (NSA) is currently undertaking many of the programs TIA was criticized for planning.


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