Official: Army Has Authority to Spy on Americans

By Jeff Stein, CQ Staff
“Contrary to popular belief, there is no absolute ban on [military] intelligence components collecting U.S. person information,” the U.S.Army’s top intelligence officer said in a 2001 memo that surfaced Tuesday.

Not only that, military intelligence agencies are permitted to “receive” domestic intelligence information, even though they cannot legally “collect” it,” according to the Nov. 5, 2001, memo issued by Lt. Gen. Robert W. Noonan Jr., the deputy chief of staff for intelligence.

“MI [military intelligence] may receive information from anyone, anytime,” Noonan wrote in the memo, obtained by Secrecy News, a newsletter from the non-profit Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

Defense Department and Army regulations “allow collection about U.S. persons reasonably believed to be engaged, or about to engage, in international terrorist activities,” Noonan continued.

“Remember, merely receiving information does not constitute ‘collection’ under AR [Army Regulation] 381-10; collection entails receiving ‘for use,’ ” he added. (Army Regulation 381-10, “U.S. Army Intelligence Activities,” was reissued on Nov. 22, 2005, but had not previously been disclosed publicly.) “Army intelligence may always receive information, if only to determine its intelligence value and whether it can be collected, retained, or disseminated in accordance with governing policy,”

The distinction between “receiving” and “collecting” seems “to offer considerable leeway for domestic surveillance activities under the existing legal framework,” wrote editor Steven Aftergood in Tuesday’s edition of Secrecy News.

“This in turn makes it harder to understand why the NSA domestic surveillance program departed from previous practice.”

Aftergood was alerted to the existence of the memo by another security expert, John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, who thought that “there is enough ambiguity in the language that with a bit of creativity in managing the U.S. persons files there would have been not too much trouble” applying existing rules to the warrantless eavesdropping by the National Security Agency.

TALON Reports

The Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) was launched in 2002 with the mission of “gathering information and conducting activities to protect DoD and the nation against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, assassinations, and terrorist activities,” according to a CIFA brochure. Its TALON program has amassed files on antiwar protesters, according to a Pentagon official.

“More than 5,000 TALON reports” were “received and shared throughout the government” in the program’s first year of operation,” Carol A. Haave, deputy undersecretary of Defense for counterintelligence and security, told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in May 2004.

“At that rate, about 12,500 Talon reports would have been filed during the approximately 2½ years the program has existed,” The Washington Post concluded Tuesday.

• Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence: “Collecting Information on U.S. Persons” (pdf)