U.S. Satellites will spy on Americans

The United States is expanding the use of spy satellites for domestic surveillance, turning its “eyes in sky” inward to counter terrorism and eventually for law enforcement, US officials said Wednesday.

Authorized by US intelligence chief Michael McConnell in May and managed by the Department of Homeland Security, the change will allow more federal and local agencies to tap into satellite imagery and related intelligence products, they said.

It also will expand the kind of intelligence that can be made available to include measurement and signature intelligence, which is used to identify and track targets by their particular physical characteristics, they said.

Charles Allen, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for intelligence analysis, said the main priority is to make more robust use of intelligence capabilities for civil defense purposes.

“The least of my concern is law enforcement,” he said in a telephone interview.

“We’re looking at that and we’ll do it in an appropriate way,” he said. But he said the government will move slowly on what probably will be limited applications for law enforcement.

He said spy satellites already have been used on an ad hoc basis to guard against terrorist attacks at political conventions and major sporting events.

The Department of Homeland Security envisions using spy satellites to keep closer watch over borders, ports, bridges and other key infrastructure.

They would use them in responding to disasters like the September 11, 2001 attacks or Hurricane Katrina.

NASA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration and US Geological Survey already have had access to imagery from US reconnaissance satellites.

But the expanded uses raise questions about the implications for US civil liberties, whether the government’s intelligence apparatus should be available to use to spy on people inside the United States.

Another issue is whether and how law enforcement agencies will ultimately be able to use powerful tools designed to spy on foreign adversaries.

A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the changes have been vetted throughout the US government and appropriate congressional committees have been briefed and approved a budget re-allocation for the new program.

“There is no new legal ground being broken here,” said the official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the plans Wednesday.

As a result of the changes, the Department of Homeland Security plans up to create a National Applications Office around October 1 to handle requests for access to intelligence capabilities from civilian agencies.

The offices will have separate working groups for civil, homeland security and law enforcement applications.

“The NAO will rely on existing, longstanding practice and procedures established by the Intelligence Community to ensure the appropriate protection of privacy and civil rights,” a press release issued by the Department of Homeland Security said.

It said oversight would be provided by the department’s inspector general and by civil rights officers at the department and at the office of the director of national intelligence.


  1. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    Fingerprint File, got me down, keeps me running, knows my way about. Knows where I’m at, way ahead of time, listening to me, on their satellites -and a soft little jerk in the FBI, keeps his papers on me -six feet high!!!

    Lyrics from the Rolling Stones Song ‘Fingerprint File’
    recorded in 1974.

  2. JoyfulC

    Surprise, surprise, surprise! But this isn’t about crime prevention or national security or rights and freedoms. This is just market expansion for industries that make satellite technologies. Earlier this year, this industry got a bit of a shake-up when the Chinese tested a missile to take out a satellite — a provocative move that exposed some vulnerabilities of using satellite technologies for military purposes. And obviously, it did shake some people up because ever since, there seems to be a campaign afoot to destroy consumer confidence in Chinese imports. (As if all these product safety problems are recent! No, but it’s only recently that it serves to make it news. China must be spanked.)

    This is just about keeping the satellite technologies market alive and keeping contracts flowing — and there’s nothing wrong with that. Caveat emptor, though. Before Americans buy, they should make sure it’s going to give them some real bang for their buck. For example, what enforcement resources are in place to USE the information the satellites show us? Will investment in domestic satellite surveillance give better results for keeping Americans safe and secure than, say, investment in health care? Or infrastructure? Or enhancing conventional law and border enforcement?

  3. Donnat

    I can’t wait for the GOP to start howling that this is an abuse of power once the Democrats sweep into office in 2008.


  4. JoshuasGrandma

    Enemy of the People

    Well, well. Will Smith and Gene Hackman’s movie, The Enemy of the People, has come true.

  5. Bill Robinson

    Yeah it has, but you better hope that Matt Damon’s movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, doesn’t.

  6. Sandra Price

    I tend to agree with Joyful. Someone in the White House/Congress is making big bucks from Marketing people on all our movements, our purchases and our real estate/mortgage plans.

    The best Homeland Security move would be to close up our borders to everyone without a valid passport. This morning on CSPAN, a journalist just came back from Mexico where Middle Easterners are paying big bucks to be smuggled into America. Guns are being smuggled out and drugs are everywhere.

  7. Helen Rainier

    This is truly amazing. They are turning all these satellites to spy on a nation of how many million people to try to find something that may or may not exist.

    Wouldn’t you think they should dedicate just ONE of these suckers on the Afghanistan/Pakistan mountain area to rout out OBL?

    Oh — never mind — he doesn’t matter anymore. ‘Cause Georgie the Kowboy said so.

  8. SEAL

    We can ignore the standard rhetoric claiming all the safeguards for our civil liberties. Just like everything else they create, these satellites will be abused by those who want use them for their own nefarious ends.

    People aren’t paying enough attention the the DHS. The sole purpose for its creation was to consolidate all the various agencies that accumulated information or were responsible for taking control of emergency conditions under one roof and exclusively controlled by the White House. If you have been paying attention you have observed that DHS has implimented almost none of its professed duties. It is supposed to make the “homeland” more secure. That begins with our borders and ports. We all know that did not happen until congress forced some action. Before that, the DHS idea for port security was to sell them to a foriegn power and border security was to create a guest worker program with amnesty for all illegals presently in the country.

    Obviously, DHS is only the presidents personal facillitator for his plans to have control of the nation. All of the spy and investigative abilities of all of the previously independent agencies such as the CIA, FBI, NSA, Justice Department, etc. are now under the control of the president. While there is some good derived from breaking up the secrecy within the independent power blocks and forcing them to share, there is the greater danger of placing all that power in the hands of one person. The DHS was supposed to be the overseer and coordinator for all these agencies instead of the president’s personal spy apparatus.

    Now, they add satellites whose sole purpose is to spy on any american the president wants. Don’t consider for one instant that law enforcement will not be using them. The DHS “is” law enforcement. And Michael Certoff is just another incompetent Bush loyalist who has been fying under the radar ever since he was appointed. The only time he has been noticed was during the blame game of Katrina. It was his incompetence and inaction that caused the disasterous aftermath but he was allowed to skate because Bush needs him where he is.

    Consider that, now that the DHS has been created, Each succeeding president will simply appoint their own loyalist to head it and have the power to control the nation. Essentially, the creation of DHS has destroyed the separation of powers that was built into our government and the elimination of basic civil liberty. We are now subject to one person rule if certain conditions warrant it. Of course, that can be created.

  9. JoyfulC

    If only law enforcement and immmigration enforcement could and would use them.

    It seems to me that much of the trouble is that these agencies either aren’t able or aren’t willing to make use of the info they have available already.

    This will sell satellite technologies. Won’t change much elsewise.

  10. gene

    So you bastards want to spy on me. Hah, all I have to hid is this dam hemorrhorid I’ve been trying to shrink. Hate to imagine what a surgeon would do to my ass.

    Bush is a f**king brain dead idiot. Most US citizens are f**king zombies and our financial situations is imploding to the point of “depression number 2”. So spy away!! you eternal fools.