The CIFA: The Other Big Brother?

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Though I typically can't stand Newsweek for their obvious bias and often sloppy journalism, they have a decent story up right now about the U.S. Government's top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA). Newsweek calls it The Other Big Brother.
Created three years ago by the Defense Department, CIFA's role is "force protection"—tracking threats and terrorist plots against military installations and personnel inside the United States. In May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy Defense secretary, authorized a fact-gathering operation code-named TALON—short for Threat and Local Observation Notice—that would collect "raw information" about "suspicious incidents." The data would be fed to CIFA to help the Pentagon's "terrorism threat warning process," according to an internal Pentagon memo.

I'm going to do a little more personal research on the organization, but this article certainly undergirds what I keep saying about personal privacy.
It isn't clear how many groups and individuals were snagged by CIFA's dragnet. Details about the program, including its size and budget, are classified. In December, NBC News obtained a 400-page compilation of reports that detailed a portion of TALON's surveillance efforts. It showed the unit had collected information on nearly four dozen antiwar meetings or protests, including one at a Quaker meetinghouse in Lake Worth, Fla., and a Students Against War demonstration at a military recruiting fair at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Granted, it's all about what you share with whom, but the fact of the matter is (particularly with social networking websites), young people are using the Internet as a tool to organize political protests and share controversial political ideas. I think this is great; it's what our country is all about. That's also why I'm concerned that the government is examining this information and using it to pursue certain groups and activities. Don't tell me that privacy isn't important.
An internal CIFA PowerPoint slide presentation recently obtained by William Arkin, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who writes widely about military affairs, gives some idea how the group operated. The presentation, which Arkin provided to NEWSWEEK, shows that CIFA analysts had access to law-enforcement reports and sensitive military and U.S. intelligence documents. (The group's motto appears at the bottom of each PowerPoint slide: "Counterintelligence 'to the Edge'.") But the organization also gleaned data from "open source Internet monitoring." In other words, they surfed the Web.
No big deal? Read on:
Arkin says a close reading of internal CIFA documents suggests the agency may be expanding its Internet monitoring, and wants to be as surreptitious as possible. CIFA has contracted to buy "identity masking" software that would allow the agency to create phony Web identities and let them appear to be located in foreign countries, according to a copy of the contract with Computer Sciences Corp.

In trademark Orwellian style, Cheney told the Manhattan Institute (a conservative think tank), "Either we are serious about fighting this war on terror or not." In other words, if you oppose such spying, then you must be tolerant of terrorism.

"This is a significant Pandora's box [Pentagon officials] don't want opened," says Arkin. "What we're looking at is hints of what they're doing." That's what I've been concerned about from the get-go. That is, if certain tactics are making it to the surface enough to be apparent to observant citizens, then we must assume that we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg. As Newsweek wrapped it up: "As far as the Pentagon is concerned, that means we've already seen too much."

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