The US Secret Police?

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET

Newsweek columnist Mark Hosenball tackles a story online that so far the traditional media outlets have ignored. "America's Secret Police" reports that senior Pentagon officials have informally discussed "how to proceed with a possible merger between the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), a post-9/11 Pentagon creation that has been accused of domestic spying, and the Defense Security Service (DSS), a well-established older agency responsible for inspecting the security arrangements of defense contractors. DSS also maintains millions of confidential files containing the results of background investigations on defense contractors' employees."

According to the Newsweek piece, a merger for budgetary reasons has been talked about for a while, but has been stalled by controversy.

The first erupted late in 2005 when documents surfaced indicating that CIFA (whose mission, according to its own officials, is supposed to be limited to analysis of counterintelligence data produced by other agencies) was discovered to have put together a database that included reports on anti-administration demonstrators, including peace activists protesting alleged "war profiteering."

Another controversy over CIFA took hold during the corruption scandal surrounding former San Diego congressman Randall (Duke) Cunningham, who before he resigned in disgrace earlier this year, had been a member of both the House Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee. Federal prosecutors alleged Cunningham used his congressional influence to direct CIFA to grant defense contracts to a company called MZM.

But meetings about combining CIFA and DSS have ramped up recently, says Newsweek, "with an informal committee led by Robert Rogalski, a deputy to Stephen Cambone, the under secretary of Defense for intelligence."

Both Pentagon insiders and privacy experts fear that if CIFA merges with, or, in effect, takes over DSS, there would be a weakening of the safeguards that are supposed to regulate the release of the estimated 4.5 million security files on defense-contractor employees currently controlled by DSS....

According to one knowledgeable official, who asked for anonymity because of the extreme sensitivity of the subject, since its creation CIFA has on at least a handful of occasions requested access to the secret files ... without adequate explanation. As a result, the source said, DSS rejected the requests. A merger between CIFA and DSS would weaken those internal controls, the source said.....

A CIFA merger with DSS could also alter the job responsibilities of the 280 inspectors employed by DSS to inspect security arrangements and procedures at defense contractors' offices. ....[T]here are fears that CIFA will pressure the DSS inspectors to expand their mandate to include inspecting contractors to see if they are protecting information that could be considered "sensitive but unclassified"--a term the Bush administration has tried to use to expand restrictions on access to government records. Security professionals regard that expansion as too elastic and open to misinterpretation. By acquiring control of the DSS inspector force, a merged CIFA-DSS would also have something that CIFA at the moment claims not to have, which is a force of field investigators. Today CIFA has to rely for raw field reports on other defense and military intelligence agencies, such as branches of Army, Navy and Air Force intelligence.

Defense analyst and blogger Bill Arkin, who first brought allegations about CIFA's domestic spying to light, says that in its efforts to trying eliminate waste and better coordinate intelligence activities, "we are creating an American military secret police that is clearly acquiring way too much information and way too much power."