Print 25 comment(s) - last by marsbound2024.. on Feb 19 at 12:09 AM

New oversight committee gets ready to use American spy satellites domestically

In many ways, I'm not in the least bit surprised the U.S. government is forming a permanent task group to oversee the use of U.S. space-based resources for domestic use.  Of course, I am a little surprised that the U.S. government began the program in 2005 with almost no mention in the media outside of a few wire reports. 

The inevitable knee-jerk reaction: "No, no! The U.S. must never use its foreign intelligence powers domestically!"

Let's be a little more pragmatic here.  The United States, commander of the most powerful intelligence services in the world, will use spy satellites domestically eventually -- if it hasn't already.

For all the problems of the Department of Homeland Security, I can find little fault with the proposed National Applications Office.  The NAO, originally commissioned to start operations in October 2007 under the umbrella of the DHS, would be the oversight institution for use of foreign intelligence capabilities domestically.

The Office is currently on hiatus pending a Congressional injunction.

In 1974 Nelson Rockefeller commissioned a study that exposed several illegal programs inside the U.S. intelligence community, including the infamous CIA mind control program MK-ULTRA.  One of the lasting effects of Rockefeller’s commission included the creation of a Civil Applications Committee -- a committee designed to oversee the use of U.S. space-based resources for domestic purposes; Earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters -- that sort of thing. 

So guess what? We've already used those satellites for domestic purposes since the 1970's, though with an extremely limited scope. 

The NAO is an expansion of the little-documented, rarely-mentioned Civil Applications Committee.  It is compromised of three parts, one of which effectively replaces the CAC; the other two working groups will oversee homeland security, the other law enforcement. 

So why the Congressional injunction?  Privacy concerns, of course.  It's good to see someone didn't fall asleep at the wheel in Congress.  A report from the Associated Press claims the injunction is in the final stages of dissolve: the new Office could officially open doors as early as next month. 

After all, at least the government is playing by the book with this one.  One proclamation of retroactive immunity for illegal wiretaps is enough for 2008 already.

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NIMBY just took on a whole new meaning...
By clovell on 2/15/2008 2:24:04 PM , Rating: 3
Form the AP article -
>It is possible that in the future an agency might request infrared imaging of what is inside a house, for instance a methamphetamine laboratory, and this could raise constitutional issues. In these instances, law enforcement agencies would still have to go through the normal process of obtaining a warrant and satisfying all the legal requirements. The National Applications Office also would require that all the laws are observed when using new imaging technology.

I don't particularly want anyone to be able to take aerial shots of what I do in my fenced backyard much less inside my house. As long as I'm not losing my expectation of privacy and these guys can run a tight ship, I'll deal with it - like Kris said, it's an inevitable eventuality. I think they should require a warrant every time they use this crap on someone.

RE: NIMBY just took on a whole new meaning...
By ziggo on 2/15/2008 3:18:49 PM , Rating: 2
I would just like to point out that infra-red does not look through walls, it cant even "see" though a window. If the ambient temperature of a house is abnormally high thats one thing, but it won't be able to "see" you walking around your house.

By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 2/15/2008 3:36:05 PM , Rating: 2
All true, but what if the AP had mentioned X-ray or t-ray instead? I don't know the range on those particular devices, but I doubt the three of us are the first people to propose such methods.

By Ringold on 2/15/2008 3:55:01 PM , Rating: 2
This can already be used, possibly, to grab information about citizens we may not want easily known:

As always, America is just one step behind the pace of Europe in increasing federal power. On the other hand, in grand American style, why use a helicopter... when you can use billion-dollar satellites!

As the blog from which I pulled that link from said:

First, they came for the dry rubs, and I did nothing because I prefer to marinade.

Then, they came for the propane gas, but still I did nothing, because I have a flame pit.

And then..

RE: NIMBY just took on a whole new meaning...
By masher2 (blog) on 2/15/2008 9:03:51 PM , Rating: 2
> "I would just like to point out that infra-red does not look through walls, it cant even "see" though a window."

It depends on your definition of "see". It does allow you to collect information through a wall that otherwise would be hidden. If the wall is very thin and/or poorly insulated, FLIR technology can allow a very rough level of imaging as well.

Certainly you have an expectation of privacy when you turn on a space heater in a particular room. Technology that allows someone outside your home to determine that violates that expectation, and certainly shouldn't be allowed without a search warrant.

By AmyM on 2/17/2008 2:25:06 PM , Rating: 5
This happens more often than you would imagine. Law enforcement helicopters have used FLIR to detect indoor "Greenhouses". From there, a few drive by’s/stakeouts to determine if there is "traffic" at the locale. Then an anonymous tip to police that someone is selling pot out of the house. From this point the "Official" investigative process begins; (sanctioned stakeout), subsequent buyer arrests or undercover "buys", and presto: Court Ordered search warrant.

By Fnoob on 2/16/2008 7:25:25 PM , Rating: 2
Lord knows what they would think if they could see what we are reading ;)

Google already does it
By mjcutri on 2/15/2008 3:47:40 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not surprised that the Gov't is trying to do this, especially since you can already see quite a bit with google earth (or anyone else's satellite images) and also google street view (what a stir that caused as well). If a private company can do it, why not the gov't too?

RE: Google already does it
By clovell on 2/15/2008 4:03:32 PM , Rating: 2
I thought about that, too, but google images are on the visible spectrum and don't have what I would call a 'personal' level of detail - like something that would be available to the government. They're also used as cartographic tools, rather than surveillance / investigative devices.

In other words, I see what you're saying, but it's not exactly the same.

Proper use
By crystal clear on 2/18/08, Rating: 0
RE: Proper use
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 2/18/2008 3:01:44 PM , Rating: 3
As horrible as that beautiful September morning turned out to be, let's quantify this a bit.

Hundreds of thousands of people died in the 2004 Tsunami; less than 5,000 died in 9/11. Yet we've spent irrationally more money defending ourselves from another 9/11 than we have preparing our coastlines for natural disaster.

Nobody would argue that extra security is generally a good thing when it doesn't impede on our rights. What I would argue is there better, more realistic things to be spending our money on?

Personally, I always figured the proportional amount of my tax money allocated to spy satellites should actually be used to spy on foreign nations rather than meth heads in Kansas.

Either way, if the government is going to do this, they might as well do it right -- which it appears so far they're playing by the book.

By marsbound2024 on 2/19/2008 12:09:26 AM , Rating: 2
Enemy of the State

By pauldovi on 2/15/08, Rating: -1
RE: Damn
By Ringold on 2/15/08, Rating: -1
RE: Damn
By pauldovi on 2/15/2008 5:08:03 PM , Rating: 2
Trust me, I do see all those as problem. They just don't have anything to do with this article.

"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."

- Thomas Jefferson

I don't find these men to be ruthless or evil, I think that they are wrong though. The Constitution wasn't designed to be ignored when it is continent, it is after all, the law. You know, I wish I could stop paying taxes when money is tight. After all, when I get my money back I will go right back to paying those taxes!

Give me a break.

RE: Damn
By Ringold on 2/15/2008 7:01:59 PM , Rating: 2
You were at least channeling the same argument you used in the wire tapping article, and again turned it on Bush as if he were somehow special among past presidents.

I don't find these men to be ruthless or evil, I think that they are wrong though.

That's a valid opinion, sure enough. However, had Lincoln not ignored the letter of the constitution in order to ultimately preserve it, there could be two nations covering the land that currently represents one. Had Roosevelt not lied to the American people in campaigns and broke international laws left and right, well, who knows how that would've ended up. England couldn't have survived without our illegal aid, and we didn't just magically jump on a war footing after Pearl Harbor; Roosevelt had us on a war footing long before.

Also, allow me to quote the historian Arthur M. Schlesigner:

"The Framers had been reared on John Locke. They were well acquainted with chapter fourteen, "Of Prerogative," in Locke's Second Treastise on Civil Government. While in normal times, Locke said, responsible rulers must observe the rule of law, in dire emergencies they could initiate extralegal or even illegal action. Sometimes "a strict and rigid observation of the laws may do harm." The executive, Locke contended, must have the reserve power "to act according to discretion for the public good, without the prescription of law and sometimes even against it." The test of whether the prerogative was rightfully invoked, Locke said, was whether the emergency was a true one and whether the exercise of prerogative tended "to the good or hurt of the people" -- judgements to be made in the end not by the ruler but by the people."

He goes on to point out that Article I, Section 9 allows the president to suspend habeas corpus "when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public safety may require it."

And to quote Jefferson just as you did, I draw you to

"On great occasions, every good officer must be ready to risk himself in going beyond the strict line of the law, when the public preservation requires it." There are "extreme cases where the laws become inadequate to their own preservation, and where the universal recourse is a dictator, or martial law." That was in 1807. After he left office he expanded on it; "A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of a higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law would be to lose the law itself... thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means." And "The line of discrimination between cases may be difficult; but the good officer is bound to draw it at his own peril, and throw himself on the justice of his country and the rectitude of his motives."

See? I like some Jefferson too.

We would be at this point getting ahead of ourselves by getting outraged over these things you are railing against; I invoke again Kennedy, who campaigned that Eisenhower had played soft-ball with the Soviets and whined about our supposed missile gap. Of course, immediately upon entering office, he gained access to classified intelligence and learned there was no missile gap. Kennedy, and the public, had rushed to judgement too soon. I would say you're doing the same here.

RE: Damn
By pauldovi on 2/16/2008 5:28:14 AM , Rating: 2
I admire your post, research, and opinion.

However Jefferson was talking of the law, not your rights. It is very different ignoring the law compared to ignoring someone's rights.

RE: Damn
By Ringold on 2/16/2008 5:30:32 PM , Rating: 2
I think we've reached a level of agreement; I don't think my position is any more "correct" than your own.

After all that debate, I am left wondering though why the government doesn't avoid the entire issue and just let foreign friendly governments do what we can't/shouldn't do ourselves, and merely inform us when they detect something. I can only imagine that Bush thinks he can get away with anything, but.. oh well.

RE: Damn
By A5un on 2/16/2008 6:03:20 AM , Rating: 2
I can never understand why people quote other people. All that accomplishes is showing that you've found another person who agrees with you. Big deal. So what if the people you quote are geniuses.

As for whatever you said about Lincoln and blah blah blah, well, the only logical conclusion / observation I can correctly draw on this would be that they too have not followed the constitution and violated their oath. Well, I guess that should be grounds for impeachment? Now, let's dig them out and give them a fair trial, shall we?

RE: Damn
By Ringold on 2/16/2008 5:23:21 PM , Rating: 2
People quote the founding fathers because the constitution is the ultimate law and their word provides insight to their meaning when it was written. The Supreme Court if I'm not mistaken looks closely not just at the constitution but also the Federalist Papers when they consider their rulings.Privacy and whatnot is clearly a constitutional issue.

I wouldn't quote Mr. T on constitutional issues. :)

In fact, you'll almost never see me quote any one except those people, and on the issues of what's constitutional and what is not. On rare occasion I'll quote Barry Goldwater and Milton Friedman, because they related ideas far better than I could and I'd rather be honest and not just plagiarize.

RE: Damn
By A5un on 2/16/2008 8:41:51 PM , Rating: 2
Well I can agree with you on the usefulness and perhaps interesting insights that one gains by examining other people's works. But why look to the authors of the Constitution when you've got the Constitution in front of you.

RE: Damn
By masher2 (blog) on 2/16/2008 12:32:01 PM , Rating: 2
> "However, had Lincoln not ignored the letter of the constitution in order to ultimately preserve it..."

Forget his suspension of habeas corpus -- Lincoln shut down newspapers and jailed editors who dared to disagree with his policies, and ordered federal troops to shoot political protestors. Quite honestly, there's no excuse for his actions.

Historians have politely judged Lincoln far better than he deserved, simply because his actions led to the downfall of slavery, where in truth such an end was furthest from his mind. Lincoln himself said if he could preserve the union by preserving slavery, he would do so. As for his views on racial equality, we have:

"I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality."
Abraham Lincoln, 1858.

RE: Damn
By dflynchimp on 2/16/2008 7:20:04 PM , Rating: 2
we all need heroes, and thus such obvious flaws in a person are overlooked for the good that they did upon society (even if it wasn't their intention to do it).

"It ain't about you, Jayne. It's about what they need" Mal- Firefly.

RE: Damn
By brenatevi on 2/17/2008 12:30:17 AM , Rating: 2
*sigh* One, of the greatest shows to ever get cancel.

As for Lincoln, it's funny how circumstances conspire to change your stance on issues. Lincoln didn't free the slaves for their own good. He freed the slaves to prevent the United Kingdom and France from recognizing the Confederacy. The thing people forget about all public figures (past and present) is that they were all human, with strengths and weaknesses. They all did things that they thought were best out of the choices before them, and sometimes had to make choices that even they didn't agree with.

It's a lesson to be learned here in the present day. Domestic wiretaps and satellite spying is very dangerous ground to walk on, and we could very easily end up paying a very high price for the decisions that are being made today in the name of safety that quite possibly will never bear fruit. "We have to be lucky all the time, they have to be lucky just once." There is no such thing as complete safety, and by trying to accomplish this, we come dangerously close to losing everything.

Yet, these things are decided by the people in power now, and they don't have as many choices as we think they have. There has already been one attack on American soil, so what are they supposed to do? If you were president, what you have done? If you were responsible for 300 million human lives, what choices would you have made?

Going back to Lincoln, the older I get, the more I disagree with Lincoln's decision to go to war with the South. I think he should have respected their citizens desire to leave the Union they joined voluntarily. That is easy for me to say though; I'm not sure if I would think the same if I had been in his shoes.

RE: Damn
By borowki on 2/17/2008 6:43:40 AM , Rating: 4
And meanwhile, Ms. Clinton is talking of requiring people to buy health insurance.

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad
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