A highly secret office located within the Department of Defense (DoD), the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) was charged with protecting US military personnel and facilities against spying and acts of terrorism. Information regarding CIFA’s budget and number of personnel is classified. CIFA’s primary mission was to identify and track down suspected terrorists. In 2005 news reports revealed that CIFA had been spying on peace activists and Iraq war protesters and was implicated in the bribery scandal of former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham. CIFA was shut down in August 2008 and its activities were folded into the Defense Intelligece Agency (DIA).
Contrary to the popular belief that American armed forces have stayed out of “police” activities, the United States government has repeatedly used its military to carry out domestic law enforcement operations. The first use of the US Army was the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. In 1807, Congress declared the Army should enforce federal laws in the western frontier. During the antebellum period, federal marshals were allowed to call on soldiers to help track down runaway slaves. The capture of famed abolitionist John Brown included the use of both Army soldiers and Marines in 1859.
Following the Civil War, federal troops were dispatched to the South during the era of Reconstruction to maintain law and order. This move resulted in incidents of abuse involving soldiers and civilians, prompting Congress to adopted the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act (PCA), prohibiting the use of the military “to execute the laws” of the United States. This ban was subsequently interpreted by US courts as a ban on searching, arresting or spying on US civilians by federal troops.
In spite of the PCA, Pentagon officials ordered military agents
to spy on anti-war protestors during the Vietnam War. The revelation of this program outraged many in the public and resulted in a lengthy congressional investigation that found the military had conducted investigations of at least 100,000 American citizens. Congress subsequently adopted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
in 1978 placing new limits on military spying inside the US.
Just three years later, the federal government began moving in a different direction, to allow greater use of the military in domestic law enforcement operations. During the Reagan administration era, Congress adopted the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act of 1981 and amended the PCA in 1986. These moves allowed the military, including the National Guard, more leeway to help federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency, to conduct anti-narcotic operations as part of the government’s “war on drugs” campaign. Since then, Army and National Guard units have participated in drug interdiction operations with DEA and other federal agents.
As a result of the changes in federal law, the military established Joint Task Force 6
, the military’s counter-drug program, which supported the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) during the siege at the Branch Davidian
Compound in Waco Texas. At one point BATF requested support from Joint Task Force 6 personnel who were on sight when BATF agents stormed the compound, resulting in 82 deaths. Had the task force agents not questioned their direct involvement in the action, members of the Armed Forces would have been illegally involved in an operation that led to the deaths of US citizens.
As a result of these events, the Department of Defense established the Defense Counterintelligence Board
to better counteract spying attempts against the US military. In 2001 the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security created the Joint Counterintelligence Assessment Group (JCAG) with a “mandate for creative experimentation.” The JCAG became the immediate precursor to CIFA.
Concurrently, senior Defense officials were working with counterparts in the CIA, FBI, the National Security Council and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to broaden interagency cooperation across the entire national security apparatus. The resulting blueprint was called CI-21
, brought to life by a Presidential Decision Directive, “Counterintelligence for the 21st Century,” in January 2001, one of the last acts of President Bill Clinton. The intent behind CI-21 was to bring the Defense and national security communities into an era of interagency cooperation and to foster a commonality of purpose in the realm of counterintelligence. CI-21 envisioned several new structures, notably a National Counterintelligence Executive, to bring the various elements into close coordination.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration redirected federal resources and personnel to focus on the country’s Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) campaign and to better protect homeland security. This included the establishment of the Northern Command
, a new military organization charged with protecting the United States from attack. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led the effort to create Northern Command as well as the establishment of the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) through Department of Defense Directive 5105.67
(PDF) in February 2002.
A highly secret office within the Department of Defense, the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) was charged with protecting US military personnel and facilities against spying and acts of terrorism. Information regarding CIFA’s budget and number of personnel is classified.
CIFA’s primary mission was to identify and track down suspected terrorists. CIFA also produced counterintelligence threat assessments and advisories and risk assessments to warn DoD personnel and critical infrastructure (i.e. military bases). CIFA maintained a domestic law enforcement database that included information related to potential terrorist threats directed against DoD. Moreover, the office was been given a domestic “data mining” mission: figuring out a way to process massive sets of public records, intercepted communications, credit card accounts and other information to find “actionable intelligence.” This last provision has been interpreted by observers as meaning spying on US citizens.
Central to CIFA operations was close collaboration and partnering with other organizations in the national intelligence and investigative community. CIFA’s Assessments and Technology Directorate shared offices with the Justice Department's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. DoD law enforcement and counterintelligence agents and analysts were also assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces throughout the United States. These personnel collect and analyze terrorist threat and criminal information and participate in the investigation of international terrorist incidents having a DoD link.
When CIFA was first launched, the office contained nine directorates, four of which were eliminated or consolidated into other directorates as part of a CIFA reorganization announced in the summer of 2007. Those four covered behavioral sciences, field activities, management and development. Before it was closed in August 2008, CIFA operated four directorates that reflected its core activities: program management (including budgeting and strategic planning); operational support; training and professional development; and defense counterintelligence information technology.
Is Military Creeping Into Domestic Law Enforcement? (by Robert Block and Gary Fields, Wall Street Journal)
CIFA’s top-secret activities have not prevented it from utilizing private companies to carry out its highly sensitive counterintelligence activities. In fact, CIFA was one of the largest employers of private contractors within the U.S. intelligence community.
According to a story by NBC News
, from March 2004 to December 2005, CIFA awarded at least $33 million in contracts to corporate giants Lockheed Martin, Unisys Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation and Northrop Grumman to develop databases that comb through classified and unclassified government data, commercial information and Internet chatter to help find terrorists and spies.
One of the CIFA-funded database projects being developed by Northrop Grumman, dubbed “Person Search,” was designed “to provide comprehensive information about people of interest.” It included the ability to search government as well as commercial databases. Another project, “The Insider Threat Initiative,” intended to “develop systems able to detect, mitigate and investigate insider threats,” as well as the ability to “identify and document normal and abnormal activities and ‘behaviors,’” according to the Computer Sciences Corp. contract that NBC reviewed.
In the summer of 2007, CIFA began a reorganization that included shrinking its workforce by a “fair amount” over an eight to 12 month period, according to InsideDefense.com
. Then director of CIFA, Tom Faust, said the downsizing would mostly involve contractors. “Fiscal prudence” was cited as the reason for the cutting back on contractors.
In its final years, a significant portion of CIFA's classified budget was funded by supplementals, which are provided by Congress on an emergency basis. But with concerns about resources strained by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and complaints on Capitol Hill about the Pentagon relying too much on supplementals, there was no guarantee that this kind of funding would continue.
In January 2008 it was reported that a subsidiary of QinetiQ (pronounced “kinetic”) North America (QNA), a major British-owned defense and intelligence contractor based in McLean, Virginia, was awarded a five-year, $30 million contract to provide a range of unspecified “security services” to CIFA. QNA’s contract was awarded just two months after the company hired Stephen Cambone, the former undersecretary of defense for intelligence and a longtime Rumsfeld aide, as its vice president for strategy.
Cambone is the most senior of a group of former high-ranking Pentagon and intelligence officials hired by QNA to manage its expansion in the $50 billion U.S. market for intelligence outsourcing services. While he was at the Pentagon, Cambone oversaw CIFA. QNA has been awarded other contracts by the Pentagon to handle “network centric warfare” projects involving military drones and robots, low-flying satellites and jamming technologies.
QNA was created in 2001 when the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) split up the Defence Evaluation Research Agency (DERA), its equivalent to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). One part of the company remained inside the MoD, but the other half was sold to the private sector and became QNA. In February 2003, 33% of QNA shares were acquired by the Carlyle Group, the powerful Washington-based private equity fund with close ties to the Bush administration.
With $1.5 billion in defense revenue in 2006, QNA is the 11th largest U.S. intelligence contractor.
Pentagon and Contractors One Happy Family? (by Tim Shorrock, Inter Press Service)
CIFA Spying Protects Halliburton
Although CIFA was supposed to limit its activities to protecting military personnel and military facilities, sometimes it stretched its jurisdiction. In June 2004, ten protestors in Houston passed out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they left work at company headquarters in June 2004. They were trying to call attention to the fact that Halliburton was being accused of overcharging for food contracts in Iraq. The protest was included in the Pentagon’s “terrorism threat warning process” because CIFA officials included Halliburton and other private companies in their web of protection because they area military contractors. CIFA also monitored and, in some cases, infiltrated, groups such as the Quakers, the Catholic Workers and Greenpeace.
CIFA Spying Revealed
In the fall of 2005, CIFA’s domestic spying operations became widely known following an investigation by NBC News. The story reported how CIFA had labeled members of a local Quaker organization in Lake Worth, Florida, a “threat.” NBC News obtained a secret 400-page document containing information compiled in one of CIFA’s databases. The information included more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a 10-month period and nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that had taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center.
One “incident” included in the database was a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles in March 2004 that featured effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentioned a planned protest against military recruiters in December 2003 in Boston and a planned protest in April 2004 at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes, a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Fort Lauderdale protest was deemed not to be a credible threat and a column in the database concluded: “US group exercising constitutional rights.” Two-hundred and forty-three other incidents in the database were discounted because they had no connection to the Department of Defense - yet they all remained in the database.
Government watchdog groups, such as the Truth Project, were outraged by the news. DoD officials said that all domestic intelligence information was “properly collected” and involved “protection of Defense Department installations, interests and personnel.” Later, CIFA officials acknowledged that reports on U.S. citizens had been improperly filed with the office’s database, TALON, but insisted these actions were mistakes. Further, these reports had been removed from the database and steps taken to ensure only appropriate information is kept in the system.
The Pentagon’s Inspector General conducted an investigation of CIFA in 2007 and reported that the office had legally gathered all information on individuals and organizations participating in protests and demonstrations.
CIFA Implicated in Cunningham Scandal
In the fall of 2006 the Washington Post reported that CIFA had been implicated in the bribery scandal of former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA). An investigation by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence found that Cunningham had channeled more than $70 million in Pentagon and intelligence agency contracts to two companies that paid him bribes. The committee concluded that Cunningham’s actions required the “cooperation or at least the non-interference of many people.”
MZM Inc., benefited from several questionable contracts given by CIFA. Cunningham, as a member of the House intelligence panel, chaired the terrorism subcommittee that had authority over CIFA. The House committee's “ability to conduct appropriate oversight over the counterintelligence project at CIFA, MZM's other contracts with CIFA, and arguably CIFA as a whole appears to have been seriously impeded by the corrupt conspiracy between Cunningham and [MZM],” read the report.
CIFA's two top officials, director David A. Burtt II and his deputy, Joseph Hefferon, suddenly resigned in August 2006. CIFA officials refused to discuss any link to the ongoing investigations. A Pentagon spokesman said their leaving was “a personal decision that they both made together.”
Many in Government Helped Cunningham Or Yielded, Panel Finds: Report Indicates Widening Investigation (by Walter Pincus, Washington Post)
John F. O’Hara
John F. O’Hara served briefly as the acting director of the Counterintelligence Field Activity beginning on February 4, 2008. O’Hara holds a bachelor's degree in history from Hunter College in Manhattan and a master's degree in international relations from Alabama’s Troy State University. He is also a graduate of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute Spanish Language and Area Studies Program.
O’Hara began his government service in 1972 when he accepted an administrative position with the FBI in its New York Field Office. After serving for nine years in various capacities with the FBI, O’Hara joined the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) as a special agent in May 1981. During his career with NCIS, he served in numerous leadership, operational and liaison positions around the world. Following retirement from NCIS in March 2004, O’Hara served as program manager for CIFA until appointment as deputy director in January 2007.
Annual Budget: Classified. Sources told the Washington Post that over a three-year period CIFA spent more than $1 billion.
Employees: Classified. According to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, CIFA employs approximately 400 personnel and another 800 contractors.
Counterintelligence Field Activity