Privacy SOS

The spy stakes: showdown on domestic turf

“Although the CIA is best known for its spy work overseas, the agency has stations in most major U.S. cities.”

If you assume that the CIA is still bound by the 1947 National Security Act that gave it birth while forbidding it from operating within the United States, Greg Miller’s latest Washington Post piece might cause a double take. 

We know something about the ‘bad old days’ when the CIA spied on more than 13,000 Americans, including anti-war activists, campus radicals, the Black Panthers, members of Women Strike for Peace, and student publications in a bundle of programs named Operation Chaos.

But that was brought to an end…wasn’t it?

It turns out that well before 9/11, the CIA was back in the domestic spying business.  According to the Washington Post’s Dana Priest, by the mid 1980’s its National Resource Division had 35 field offices within the United States. The CIA conducted debriefings of US citizens who had traveled abroad and sought to recruit foreign nationals to serve as CIA assets when they returned home. 

How the program worked pre-9/11 was the subject of a May 2001 piece in Time Magazine.

That’s not all.  Again – well before 9/11 – former CIA head George Tenet had reportedly negotiated with telecoms and financial institutions “to get access to certain telephone, Internet and financial records related to ‘black’ intelligence operations.”

The bureaucratic rivalry between the CIA and FBI in staking out turf was potent enough to be a major factor contributing to the 9/11 attacks. Momentarily chastened by revelations about the litany of blunders for which they were responsible, the CIA and FBI agreed to cooperate in the attack’s aftermath, with the CIA expanding its domestic presence and placing agents within the FBI’s joint terrorism task forces. 

But the relationship did not remain friction free for long. The Associated Press exposed the role played by the CIA in helping the New York Police Department establish a rogue domestic intelligence and profiling operation competing with the FBI in New York and well beyond (including internationally).   

While the New York mayor and the New York attorney general have backed the blanket surveillance of Muslims and other ethnic groups, a group of Muslim organizations has brought a lawsuit challenging the activities of the NYPD’s Demographic Unit. 

But now score one for the FBI!  According to Greg Miller, the FBI was just given a boost by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper Jr. who announced that its highest ranking field agents will serve as DNI representatives across the country. 

Lest you think that this means that the showdown between rivals has been won by Robert Mueller’s crew and harmony will prevail, Miller writes that “concerns have surfaced in some regional offices that the FBI is exploiting its new clout at the CIA’s expense.” 

Not only that: “It is unclear whether the change will require the CIA to disclose more information about its domestic sources” – such as who is saying what to the National Resources Division.   

That’s right. It doesn’t seem that the CIA is telling the FBI what it is doing.

Think the FBI is spying on the CIA? That may be one way to get information. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.