Domestic Surveillance Programs Cast Wide Net

News Release: 
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A wide range of federal and local agencies are currently engaged in domestic surveillance programs. Here is a sampling of a few that are publicly known:

The Northwest Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX)
LInX is a Web-based system managed by the U.S. Navy, which allows participating agencies to electronically share information between them, including data on arrest records, people, officer field interviews, vehicles, addresses, weapons and other materials. It is one of seven such systems in the country, with more than 50 participating agencies in the Northwest.

The system does not verify the truthfulness or accuracy of the information that it shares between agencies, so a misspelled name could suddenly cause one person to be mistaken for another during a routine traffic stop, or keep another from boarding a plane. The system could also potentially stigmatize peaceful groups that oppose government policies, since participating agencies like the FBI have been known to monitor and keep records on their activities, as described below.

The Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)
Since the 1980s, the FBI has organized cooperative task forces with local and state law enforcement to gather intelligence and arrest people suspected of terrorist activities. The FBI has at least one such task force in each of its 56 field offices, with three in Seattle and Spokane. Unfortunately, these task forces have often exceeded their mandate. Records obtained by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that undercover officers regularly monitored the activities of political and religious groups such as Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Catholic Workers Group.

Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) and Talon Reports
According to the Washington Post, in February 2002, the Department of Defense created the CIFA system to process reports of suspicious activities related to terrorism. These reports, called Talon, come from civilians or military members who think they have found information related to a terrorist plot or a threat to a defense facility. The reports are often raw and incomplete. The Post reported 1,200 Talon reports generated just by the Air Force in 14 months ending in September 2003.

According to the Post, actions that could trigger a Talon report include the taking of pictures of U.S. facilities, or the use of binoculars or other telescopic devices to look at facilities.

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)
In February, the Washington Post reported that the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) keeps records on 325,000 names of people suspected of being or helping international terrorists. This megadatabase combines intelligence reports from the CIA, FBI, NSA and other agencies. The Post reported that it includes information on U.S. citizens. According to the Post, it is available to at least 5,000 government analysts nationwide.

Previous national databases on terrorism suspects have proven dangerously inadequate. The federal “no-fly list,” for example, has caused many innocent travelers to be stopped and searched repeatedly for no valid reason. Civil libertarians fear that the NCTC database could likely include information on innocent people, hurting future opportunities for them if these records are misused.