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"I wrote my senator urging her to get a bipartisan group together to urge the Justice Department to drop the TIPS program. I'm just one voice out of millions, but if several others do the same we might make a difference." Talk back on the boards.

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U.S. Intelligence Agencies

The controversy over the wiretaps ordered by President Bush has brought the National Security Agency into the limelight, an agency so secretive that it is sometimes referred to as "No Such Agency." Former insiders and the reporters who broke the domestic spying story say the listening in on domestic-based conversations was a break with NSA tradition. Learn more about the history of U.S. intelligence agencies, and the rules that govern them below.

One of the main changes recommended by the 9/11 Commission is an overhaul of U.S. intelligence gathering agencies and the appointment of a single National Intelligence Director to oversee all intelligence gathering. The USA Patriot Act also altered the roles of some intelligence agencies — to the consternation of some privacy and civil liberties watchdogs. The breaking of the wiretap story helped stall the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in Congress. The President has made reauthorization a top priority for 2006.

In addition to the well-known Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security, there are a total of fifteen separate intelligence-gathering agencies in the U.S. Among them are the Department of Energy, which analyzes nuclear matters; Department of State, which analyzes information related to U.S. foreign policy; and the Treasury Department, which deals with information affecting U.S. fiscal and monetary policy.

The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard all have intelligence arms. There is also the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds satellites and coordinates collection of satellite and aerial intelligence; the National Security Agency, which collects signals intelligence from electronic transmissions, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency which does satellite imagery and mapping. Find out more about the history of U.S. intelligence agencies below.

FBI Warning Poster

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the principal investigative arm of the United States Department of Justice, charged with upholding the law through investigation of violations of federal criminal law; protecting the United States from foreign intelligence and terrorist activities; providing leadership and law enforcement assistance to federal, state, local, and international agencies; and performing these responsibilities in a manner that is responsive to the needs of the public and faithful to the U.S. Constitution. The FBI currently has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crimes.

Today, most Americans take for granted that our country needs a federal investigative service, but when the FBI was formed in 1908, the establishment of this kind of agency at a national level was highly controversial. At the time, Americans usually looked to city, county, and state governments to investigate crimes, and as the FBI’s official history reports:

When the Bureau was established, there were few federal crimes. The Bureau of Investigation primarily investigated violations of laws involving national banking, bankruptcy, naturalization, antitrust, peonage, and land fraud.

Today, the FBI is headed by a Director who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The current Director, Robert S. Mueller, III, was confirmed as Director of the FBI by the Senate on August 2, 2001 and took the oath of office on September 4, 2001. The nuts and bolts work of the FBI is done in its 56 field offices and their 400 satellite offices, known as resident agencies. In addition to its field offices across the United States, the FBI has 45 offices known as Legal Attachés or “Legats" located around the world. Their goals are to stop foreign crime as far from American shores as possible and to help solve international crimes that do occur as quickly as possible.

In light of the September 11 attacks the Attorney General issued revised investigative guidelines to assist the Bureau's counterterrorism efforts in May 2002. To support the Bureau's change in mission and to meet newly articulated strategic priorities, Director Mueller called for a reengineering of FBI structure and operations that will closely focus the Bureau on prevention of terrorist attacks, on countering foreign intelligence operations against the US, and on addressing cyber-based attacks and other high technology crimes.

Some critics contend that the FBI and other intelligence agencies have used the USA Patriot Act and other post-9/11 policies are leading toward a re-emergence of the controversial FBI program COINTELPro.

Richard Nixon at CIA headquarters

The passage of the National Security Act in July 1947 established an independent Air Force, provided for coordination by a committee of service chiefs, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and a Secretary of Defense, and created the National Security Council (NSC). The Central Intelligence Group — which was previously under the direction of a National Intelligence Authority composed of a Presidential representative and the Secretaries of State, War and Navy — became an independent department and was renamed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The Act defined the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) as head of the Intelligence Community, head of the CIA, and principal intelligence adviser to the President. The DCI is responsible for coordinating the nation's intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating and disseminating intelligence which affects national security. John E. McLaughlin became Acting Director of Central Intelligence on July 12, 2004, and continues to serve as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, a position he has held since October 2000.

The CIA's official mission is to support the President, the National Security Council, and all officials who make and execute the U.S. national security policy by "providing accurate, comprehensive, and timely foreign intelligence on national security topics" and "conducting counterintelligence activities, special activities, and other functions related to foreign intelligence and national security, as directed by the President."

Neither the number of employees nor the size of the Agency's budget can be publicly disclosed. Both the Congress and the Executive Branch oversee the Central Intelligence Agency's activities. The CIA is not a policy-making organization; it advises policymakers on matters of foreign intelligence, and it conducts covert actions only at the direction of the President.

In 2005 the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name in the press led to the resignation of Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff.

WWII Code Device Purple

The National Security Agency is the stuff of spy films and novels. According to its Web site, the group "performs highly specialized activities to protect U.S. information systems and produce foreign intelligence information." These are the people who break the codes.

The NSA was founded in 1952 and a successor to the Armed Forces Security Agency. The new entity drew on the skills developed by U.S. cryptograhers during World War II. The collection, processing and dissemination of foreign intelligence, called Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), is the corp of the NSA's function. Today's SIGINT programs are direct heirs to those from World War II, when the U.S. broke the Japanese military code and learned of plans to invade Midway Island. According to NSA historians, the use of SIGINT is believed to have directly contributed to shortening the war by at least one year.

The NSA was also on the frontlines of the Cold War, monitoring the Soviet fleet's movement during the Cuban Missile Crisis and working on the ground during the war in Vietnam. In today's very high-tech world, the NSA is at the forefront of electronic technology and is one of the U.S.'s leading research and development centers.

The NSA is now at the center of a controversy over President Bush's post 9/11 directions to the agency to use wiretapping technology domestically, and without previous permission of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

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