U.S. to Expand Domestic Use Of Spy Satellites

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by HLB, Aug 16, 2007.

  1. h--p://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB118714764716998275.html

    U.S. to Expand Domestic Use Of Spy Satellites

    By ROBERT BLOCK, Wall Street Journal

    The U.S.'s top intelligence official has greatly expanded the range of federal and local authorities who can get access to information from the nation's vast network of spy satellites in the U.S.

    The decision, made three months ago by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, places for the first time some of the U.S.'s most powerful intelligence-gathering tools at the disposal of domestic security officials. The move was authorized in a May 25 memo sent to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking his department to facilitate access to the spy network on behalf of civilian agencies and law enforcement.

    Until now, only a handful of federal civilian agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey, have had access to the most basic spy-satellite imagery, and only for the purpose of scientific and environmental study.

    According to officials, one of the department's first objectives will be to use the network to enhance border security, determine how best to secure critical infrastructure and help emergency responders after natural disasters. Sometime next year, officials will examine how the satellites can aid federal and local law-enforcement agencies, covering both criminal and civil law. The department is still working on determining how it will engage law enforcement officials and what kind of support it will give them.

    Access to the high-tech surveillance tools would, for the first time, allow Homeland Security and law-enforcement officials to see real-time, high-resolution images and data, which would allow them, for example, to identify smuggler staging areas, a gang safehouse, or possibly even a building being used by would-be terrorists to manufacture chemical weapons.

    Overseas -- the traditional realm of spy satellites -- the system was used to monitor tank movements during the Cold War. Today, it's used to monitor suspected terrorist hideouts, smuggling routes for weapons in Iraq, nuclear tests and the movement of nuclear materials, as well as to make detailed maps for U.S. soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Plans to provide DHS with significantly expanded access have been on the drawing board for over two years. The idea was first talked about as a possibility by the Central Intelligence Agency after 9/11 as a way to help better secure the country. "It is an idea whose time has arrived," says Charles Allen, the DHS's chief intelligence officer, who will be in charge of the new program. DHS officials say the program has been granted a budget by Congress and has the approval of the relevant committees in both chambers.

    Wiretap Legislation

    Coming on the back of legislation that upgraded the administration's ability to wiretap terrorist suspects without warrants, the development is likely to heat up debate about the balance between civil liberties and national security.

    Access to the satellite surveillance will be controlled by a new Homeland Security branch -- the National Applications Office -- which will be up and running in October. Homeland Security officials say the new office will build on the efforts of its predecessor, the Civil Applications Committee. Under the direction of the Geological Survey, the Civil Applications Committee vets requests from civilian agencies wanting spy data for environmental or scientific study. The Geological Survey has been one of the biggest domestic users of spy-satellite information, to make topographic maps.

    Unlike electronic eavesdropping, which is subject to legislative and some judicial control, this use of spy satellites is largely uncharted territory. Although the courts have permitted warrantless aerial searches of private property by law-enforcement aircraft, there are no cases involving the use of satellite technology.

    In recent years, some military experts have questioned whether domestic use of such satellites would violate the Posse Comitatus Act. The act bars the military from engaging in law-enforcement activity inside the U.S., and the satellites were predominantly built for and owned by the Defense Department.

    According to Pentagon officials, the government has in the past been able to supply information from spy satellites to federal law-enforcement agencies, but that was done on a case-by-case basis and only with special permission from the president.

    Even the architects of the current move are unclear about the legal boundaries. A 2005 study commissioned by the U.S. intelligence community, which recommended granting access to the spy satellites for Homeland Security, noted: "There is little if any policy, guidance or procedures regarding the collection, exploitation and dissemination of domestic MASINT." MASINT stands for Measurement and Signatures Intelligence, a particular kind of information collected by spy satellites which would for the first time become available to civilian agencies.

    According to defense experts, MASINT uses radar, lasers, infrared, electromagnetic data and other technologies to see through cloud cover, forest canopies and even concrete to create images or gather data.

    Tracking Weapons

    The spy satellites are considered by military experts to be more penetrating than civilian ones: They not only take color, as well as black-and-white photos, but can also use different parts of the light spectrum to track human activities, including, for example, traces left by chemical weapons or heat generated by people in a building.

    Mr. Allen, the DHS intelligence chief, said the satellites have the ability to take a "multidimensional" look at ports and critical infrastructure from space to identify vulnerabilities. "There are certain technical abilities that will assist on land borders...to try to identify areas where narcotraficantes or alien smugglers may be moving dangerous people or materials," he said.

    The full capabilities of these systems are unknown outside the intelligence community, because they are among the most closely held secrets in government.

    Some civil-liberties activists worry that without proper oversight, only those inside the National Application Office will know what is being monitored from space.

    "You are talking about enormous power," said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel and director of the Project on Freedom, Security and Technology for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit group advocating privacy rights in the digital age. "Not only is the surveillance they are contemplating intrusive and omnipresent, it's also invisible. And that's what makes this so dangerous."

    Mr. Allen, the DHS intelligence chief, says the department is cognizant of the civil-rights and privacy concerns, which is why he plans to take time before providing law-enforcement agencies with access to the data. He says DHS will have a team of lawyers to review requests for access or use of the systems.

    "This all has to be vetted through a legal process," he says. "We have to get this right because we don't want civil-rights and civil-liberties advocates to have concerns that this is being misused in ways which were not intended."

    DHS's Mr. Allen says that while he can't talk about the program's capabilities in detail, there is a tendency to overestimate its powers. For instance, satellites in orbit are constantly moving and can't settle over an area for long periods of time. The platforms also don't show people in detail. "Contrary to what some people believe you cannot see if somebody needs a haircut from space," he says.

    James Devine, a senior adviser to the director of the Geological Survey, who is chairman of the committee now overseeing satellite-access requests, said traditional users of the spy-satellite data in the scientific community are concerned that their needs will be marginalized in favor of security concerns. Mr. Devine said DHS has promised him that won't be the case, and also has promised to include a geological official on a new interagency executive oversight committee that will monitor the activities of the National Applications Office.

    Mr. Devine says officials who vetted requests for the scientific community also are worried about the civil-liberties implications when DHS takes over the program. "We took very seriously our mission and made sure that there was no chance of inappropriate usage of the material," Mr. Devine says. He says he hopes oversight of the new DHS program will be "rigorous," but that he doesn't know what would happen in cases of complaints about misuse.

    --Andy Pasztor contributed to this article.

    Write to Robert Block at bobby.block@wsj.com3
  2. Funny how they make up fake reasons for doing it.

    these 2 lines are particularly disturbing

    Sometime next year, officials will examine how the satellites can aid federal and local law-enforcement agencies, covering both criminal and civil law. The department is still working on determining how it will engage law enforcement officials and what kind of support it will give them.

    The spy satellites are considered by military experts to be more penetrating than civilian ones: They not only take color, as well as black-and-white photos, but can also use different parts of the light spectrum to track human activities, including, for example, traces left by chemical weapons or heat generated by people in a building.

  3. And they wonder if martial law is a possibility? Sounds like they are planning a little surprise party for us!

    If anyone wonders why I'm tatooing "Fuck Off" on top of my skull...
  4. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118783777852006309.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    Satellite Plan Draws Scrutiny

    August 23, 2007; Page A4

    WASHINGTON -- In the first sign of opposition to a controversial satellite-surveillance plan, House Democrats told the Department of Homeland Security they intend to exercise close oversight of the program, a move that could spark another confrontation between the legislature and the executive over national security.
    The announcement, contained in a tersely worded letter sent yesterday to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.), echoes concerns voiced by some critics that the planned program lacks sufficient safeguards to prevent abuses. (See the full text of the letter.)

    "I need you to provide me with an immediate assurance that upon its October 1st rollout, this program will be operating within the confines of the Constitution and all applicable laws and regulations," Mr. Thompson wrote. He also demanded biweekly updates on the activities and progress of the program as it prepares to become operational.

    Spy satellites have been used for decades for civilian purposes, including mapmaking and environmental studies. Three months ago, the Bush administration decided to expand their use for homeland security and law enforcement, including border protection. The satellites will later be made available to assist federal, state, local and tribal authorities. The program has been on the drawing board since September 2005 and was authorized by the director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, in May.
    The DHS wants access to the satellites to be controlled by a new branch -- called the National Applications Office -- which has a staff of about 40 people. The DHS said its internal watchdogs would be in charge of exercising oversight and in its public statements, didn't mention any role for the courts or Congress.

    Mr. Thompson's letter comes amid disquiet among some congressional Democrats that they have been too pliant on national-security matters. In the last hours before breaking for its August recess, Congress agreed to demands from the White House and passed a bill allowing the government to expand its use of warrantless wiretapping, a move that prompted an outcry from the party's base. It signals the entire surveillance issue could flare up again when Congress reconvenes next month.

    Spy satellites can sense electromagnetic activity, radioactivity and chemical traces, as well as wavelengths of light. That allows them to see through cloud cover and even concrete. Given the novelty of the program, there is effectively no legal framework governing their domestic use, raising concerns from privacy advocates that Americans could be subject to warrantless surveillance from space.

    According to DHS officials, Congress was briefed on the program, signed off on this expanded use of spy satellites and allowed the department to reallocate funds to begin work this fall. An aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee said the committee was aware of the program and was monitoring it.
    But in his letter to the secretary, Mr. Thompson said that he wasn't fully briefed on the program until after The Wall Street Journal wrote about it Aug. 15. "Let me state this clearly -- the release of important information to the public without prior to notification to this Committee is unacceptable," Mr. Thompson wrote.
    Until now, congressional reaction to the program has been muted because of the August recess. The DHS also seems to have carefully managed the release of information about the program, selectively briefing members of Congress and their staff. A Democratic staffer on the House intelligence committee said the committee was advised by the DHS that it intended to reallocate money inside the department to create the program but that the department provided only basic details about the program.
    DHS spokesman Russ Knocke denied that department officials tried to mislead Congress, saying there have been at least 13 detailed briefings for congressional leaders since January. He didn't specify whether Mr. Thompson was among those briefed.
    In his letter, Mr. Thompson said the department's own privacy and civil-liberty watchdogs were brought in only a few months ago and were presented with he called a "fait accompli."
    Mr. Knocke and Charles Allen, the DHS's chief intelligence officer, who will ultimately be in charge of the program, said privacy and civil-liberties officers signed off on the program and have been closely involved in its planning. Mr. Knocke said the department's Privacy Office and Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office will oversee the new National Applications Office.
    Write to Robert Block at bobby.block@wsj.com
  5. This just means your outdoor grow is going to have to be spread apart more and next to other plants. No more hiking 30 miles to the middle of nowhere and planting a weed farm you could see from space. They have FLIR on Heli's already... If you can hide your grow from FLIR you can probably hide it from a satellite just as easily. The only boost this will give to law enforcement is that these cameras have better resolution than public satellites and ability to look at different spectrums (ie. like how FLIR looks at heat). They have already had the ability to use satellite images. The technology already exsists but the government doesn't want anyone else but themselfs to have access to it, this probably pisses off a lot of experts who work in this field considering theres a lot of people who could make it.

    So it gives law enforcement a small enough boost. It sucks they're gonna get another tool to use against us :/

    Its bad enough we live a democracy where you will be arrested for protesting.
  6. just had a question on the spy in the sky ,

    are those things not also able to track...like those pop-up balloons do during nascar races.Or like the trackers that follow the shuttle or aim a patriot missile ?

    Meaning can't they also "lock on" to say a thermal image and track you ,even at night ????

  7. I was watching Russian news last week where they actually detailed using a satellite to go and find a patch of maybe 30 plants.

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