of the House Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee, has asked for both classified and public hearings to clarify what the Bush administration’s new policy on the domestic use of classified satellite imagery will be when control of imagery used for domestic purposes is transferred Oct. 1 to
the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
“Absent knowing what the legal authorities are and how the restrictions work, I worry about this,” Harman told Space News in an Aug. 21 telephone interview.
Whether the policy will be changed to allow law enforcement agencies access to the imagery, the central issue that has raised
concern in Congress, is still undecided, Laura Keehner, a
said Aug. 23.
“The [policy’s] details have not been completely clarified yet,” Keehner told Space News.
still is being established and will not be changed by the time Homeland Security’s new National Applications Office (NAO)
takes over requests for civil applications of spy satellite imagery. For the last 30 years requests have been handled by the Civil Applications Committee, a part of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Spy satellites have long been used for civilian applications such as
security at major events, natural disaster response, environmental studies and mapmaking. The new policy will, at the very least, expand to include homeland security uses, Keehner said.
Harman said she was briefed on the issue
Aug. 21 by Charles Allen, Homeland Security’s chief intelligence officer.
n said she could not remember being briefed on the issue prior to that and did not get sufficient detail from Allen Aug. 21 to make her confident that she understands the direction the administration plans to take the new policy. Keehner said Homeland Security has been working very closely with the appropriate oversight committees in Congress, conducting 13 briefings on the issue since January.
Harman and other members of Congress, along with a slew of civil liberties groups, are up in arms with the possibility that a policy shift could mean “Big Brother” is watching from the sky.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson
(D-Miss.) said in an Aug. 22 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he never
was informed about
the creation of the NAO.
Thompson wrote that he learned of the new office from media reports and
he accused the Department of Homeland Security
only including Congress in the decision at the 11th hour, merely creating the illusion of inclusion.
“Let me state this clearly,” Thompson wrote, “the release of important information to the public without prior notification to this Committee is unacceptable.”
said if law enforcement applications are included in the new policy, they
likely will be in support of functions such as planning and officer safety. Homeland Security does not foresee a significant role in supporting ongoing law enforcement investigations, she said.
said NAO will serve as the clearinghouse for civilian and governmental imagery requests, but it will not expand the purposes for which that imagery will be used. The office will use a multi-layered system of protection and oversight to ensure information passing through and stored by the NAO is in compliance with privacy and civil liberties laws and policies of the United States.
“We are not looking into peoples’ houses,” she said. “Our goal is to remain transparent and keep open communication with Congress and privacy officers and other civil liberties groups so we appropriately use this information.”
Further assurance comes from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which does the analysis and interpretation of the satellite imagery.
“From our perspective, there is no change,” an NGA spokesman said. “This does not expand the community or the purposes [of the classified imagery].”
The NGA does another review of
after it is forwarded to them, Keehner said, and then it is looked at by the NGA’s general counsel and Office of International Affairs and Policy, which are required to report anything in violation of the law or policy to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. The agency is subject to regular oversight by House and Senate committees that monitor the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community, the NGA spokesman noted.