It’s a given that U.S. national security depends on intelligence to prevent terrorism and prosecute terrorists.

But the Department of Defense seems unable to distinguish between gathering intelligence in legitimate ways and spying on innocent Americans for no good reason.

The Pentagon has asked Congress for a near carte-blanche right to covertly gather intelligence on U.S. citizens without them knowing it. The Pentagon is asking to be able to review databases to determine if these individuals might be good prospects to recruit as informants to help fight insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military argues there are a number of people from these countries and the Middle East who’ve recently come to America.

The kind of information the Pentagon plans to use and how it uses it opens the doors to numerous potential abuses. And in a move that should scare all Americans, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee approved the request. It will come before the full Senate later this month as part of the intelligence spending authorization bill.

There is nothing wrong with trying to recruit people to help us fight terrorism in a country they may be very familiar with, but we shouldn’t be able to exploit their privacy in a way that would otherwise draw lawsuits.

Would the Pentagon use a person’s bad credit rating to pressure them to be an informant? How about a child custody case?

Access to such private data by the Pentagon also creates yet another layer of government intrusion without much, if any, oversight.

The Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI already have the ability the defense intelligence agency seeks. But Congress overseas those activities and can detect abuses.

Some critics in Congress see problems with the Pentagon’s request.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R, Mich., and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told the New York Times, that he worried the Pentagon was trying to create powers CIA and FBI have, but do so without congressional oversight.

It’s even more troubling that the provisions adopted by the committee seem to be flying under the radar of public scrutiny. The provisions were removed from the same bill last year after Newsweek published a report detailing them. This year, there were no public hearings regarding the proposed powers, and a copy of the bill was made available only recently.

Newsweek also disclosed recently that the bill would allow the government greater access to databases on U.S. citizens, and one that allows the Pentagon to hide more information from Freedom of Information Act requests.

Detailed reports on our failed intelligence operations have concluded that above all we need operatives who can speak Arabic and infiltrate terrorist groups in their own countries. Duplicating FBI powers through the defense department to conduct domestic spying with little oversight won’t significantly enhance our ability to fight terrorism and it would unduly violate the rights of average Americans.

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