Secrecy News

Domestic Use of Spy Satellites Questioned

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee scolded Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last week for failing to notify him of plans to expand the use of intelligence satellites for homeland security applications.

“Unfortunately, I have had to rely on media reports to gain information about this endeavor because neither I nor my staff was briefed on the decision to create this new office prior to the public disclosure of this effort,” wrote Rep. Bennie Thompson in an August 22 letter (pdf) to Secretary Chertoff (who has been mentioned as a possible nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General).

“I need you to provide me with an immediate assurance that upon its October 1st roll out, this program will be operating within the confines of the Constitution and all applicable laws and regulations,” Chairman Thompson wrote.

“Additionally, because I have not been informed of the existence of this program for over a two year period, I am requesting that for the next six weeks, you provide me with bi-weekly briefings on the progress of the [National Applications Office] working groups.”

The Thompson letter as well as the new homeland security initiative were first reported in the Wall Street Journal.

A Washington Post editorial said that any use of spy satellites for domestic monitoring “must be accompanied… by robust protections for privacy and civil liberties.” The failure to properly advise Congress was “not a comforting start for a landmark change.”

See, relatedly, “Politician blasts Chertoff on spy satellite plans” by Carol Eisenberg, Newsday, August 24.