ACLU Criticizes Federal Commission Internal CIA Recommendation; Questions Need for Domestic Intelligence Agency

December 16, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today questioned the need for a “Homeland CIA,” formally proposed this afternoon by a federal terrorism advisory committee, noting that the FBI already has all the power it needs to interdict crime or terrorism before it occurs — and is unlikely to relinquish that power to any new agency.

“As Americans, we have always rejected an internal spy agency – even when we feared possible nuclear annihilation during the Cold War,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “While we strongly agree with Governor Gilmore that the FBI should not become a ‘kind of secret police,’ that problem is not solved by creating a different agency whose main purpose is to investigate Americans who are not engaged in any criminal wrongdoing.”

The concept of a new domestic intelligence agency, modeled after the CIA and designed to take over the FBI’s counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence functions, arose again today with the release of a report by the Gilmore Commission, chaired by former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III. Last month, Senator John Edwards (D-NC) voiced interest in such a plan, and a Washington Post article reported that the White House is mulling over the idea.

From a realistic standpoint, the ACLU pointed out, it seems highly unlikely that the FBI would easily relinquish its counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence functions, as the formation of a domestic CIA would require. At best, the FBI and the domestic intelligence agency would simply be redundant; at worst, the ACLU said, such a rivalry could impair their effectiveness in stopping crime and terrorism.

The FBI actually has wide latitude to investigate individuals and entire organizations if it has a dash of suspicion that those groups might commit violent acts. “We agree with Governor Gilmore that excessive powers can lead to abuses,” Edgar said, “but the creation of a domestic intelligence agency is also troubling because it would remove even the most tenuous link to criminality – making the domestic CIA a full-fledged covert government office tasked with spying on political groups, not terrorists.”

When the peacetime Central Intelligence Agency was formed in 1947, its charter included an explicit prohibition against domestic covert operations and intelligence gathering. President Truman himself was deeply concerned that the CIA – if allowed to operate on U.S. soil – would use its espionage techniques, including blackmail and extortion, against American citizens engaged in perfectly lawful political activities. Even during the middle of the Cold War, when fears of an enemy within were widespread, the government refused to create a domestic intelligence agency.

“The Hoover FBI ruined lives by going outside the law and engaging in covert investigations without suspicion of crime,” Edgar said. “Why would the government ever want to institutionalize something so dangerous?”

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