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NAO - Another US Spy Agency?

The NAO is "an idea whose time has arrived,"  a top U.S. intelligence official said. The National Applications Office, sounds like a light administrative organization, but the name is not to fool. This agency has extensive spying capabilities. http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/pr_1187188414685.shtm

What Will The NAO Do?

The plan for the NAO builds on a domestic security infrastructure that has been in place for at least seven years. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the NSA was granted new powers to monitor domestic communications without obtaining warrants from a secret foreign intelligence court established by Congress in 1978 (that warrant-less program ended in January 2007 but was allowed to continue, with some changes, under legislation passed by Congress in August 2007).  

Moreover, intelligence and reconnaissance agencies that were historically confined to spying on foreign countries have been used extensively on the home front since 2001. In the hours after the September 11th, 2001 attacks in New York, for example, the Bush administration called on the NGA to capture imagery from lower Manhattan and the Pentagon to help in the rescue and recovery efforts. In 2002, when two deranged snipers terrified the citizens of Washington and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs with a string of fatal shootings, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asked the NGA to provide detailed images of freeway interchanges and other locations to help spot the pair.

The NGA was also used extensively during Hurricane Katrina , when the agency provided overhead imagery -- some of it supplied by U-2 photoreconnaissance aircraft -- to federal and state rescue operations. The data, which included mapping of flooded areas in Louisiana and Mississippi, allowed residents of the stricken areas to see the extent of damage to their homes and helped first-responders locate contaminated areas as well as schools, churches and hospitals that might be used in the rescue. More recently, during the October 2007 California wildfires, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked the NGA to analyze overhead imagery of the fire zones and determine the areas of maximum intensity and damage. In every situation that the NGA is used domestically, it must receive a formal request from a lead domestic agency, according to agency spokesperson David Burpee. That agency is usually FEMA, which is a unit of DHS.

At first blush, the idea of a U.S. intelligence agency serving the public by providing imagery to aid in disaster recovery sounds like a positive development, especially when compared to the Bush administration’s misuse of the NSA and the Pentagon’s Counter-Intelligence Field Activity (CIFA) to spy on American citizens. But the notion of using spy satellites and aircraft for domestic purposes becomes problematic from a civil liberties standpoint when the full capabilities of agencies like the NGA and the NSA are considered.

Imagine, for example, that U.S. intelligence officials have determined, through NSA telephone intercepts, that a group of worshippers at a mosque in Oakland, California, has communicated with an Islamic charity in Saudi Arabia. This is the same group that the FBI and the U.S. Department of the Treasury believe is linked to an organization unfriendly to the United States.

Imagine further that the FBI, as a lead agency, asks and receives permission to monitor that mosque and the people inside using high-resolution imagery obtained from the NGA. Using other technologies, such as overhead traffic cameras in place in many cities, that mosque could be placed under surveillance for months, and -- through cell phone intercepts and overhead imagery -- its suspected worshipers carefully tracked in real-time as they moved almost anywhere in the country.

The NAO, under the plan approved by ODNI’s McConnell, would determine the rules that will guide the DHS and other lead federal agencies when they want to use imagery and signals intelligence in situations like this, as well as during natural disasters. If the organization is established as planned, U.S. domestic agencies will have a vast array of technology at their disposal. In addition to the powerful mapping and signals tools provided by the NGA and the NSA, domestic agencies will also have access to measures and signatures intelligence (MASINT) managed by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the principal spying agency used by the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  

(MASINT is a highly classified form of intelligence that uses infrared sensors and other technologies to “sniff” the atmosphere for certain chemicals and electro-magnetic activity and “see” beneath bridges and forest canopies. Using its tools, analysts can detect signs that a nuclear power plant is producing plutonium, determine from truck exhaust what types of vehicles are in a convoy, and detect people and weapons hidden from the view of satellites or photoreconnaissance aircraft.)

Created By Contractors

The study group that established policies for the NAO was jointly funded by the ODNI and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), one of only two domestic U.S. agencies that is currently allowed, under rules set in the 1970s, to use classified intelligence from spy satellites. (The other is NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.) The group was chaired by Keith Hall, a Booz Allen vice president who manages his firm’s extensive contracts with the NGA and previously served as the director of the NRO.

Domestic Spying, Inc. by Tim Shorrock Special to CorpWatch
November 27th, 2007 http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14821

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