According to the Wall Street Journal, the Central Intelligence Agency appreciably aided the Department of Justice in a nation-wide campaign to monitor mobile devices.
Working closely with a branch of the Department of Justice, the United States Marshals Service, the CIA collaborated to develop technology to ascertain and pinpoint the location of specific cell phones through the assistance of a device which simulates the signal of a cell phone tower. The mechanism, known by those associated with the program as a “dirtbox,” is affixed to an aircraft, typically a small, inconspicuous Cessna, for the tracking of specific cell phones. As surveillance is conducted, the “dirtbox” targets and tracks suspected mobile devices; cell phone contact unrelated to the inspection is then severed.
The CIA is prohibited from conducting domestic intelligence gathering; however, the agency played no role in this program other than transferring this technology, a variant of which has accommodated CIA efforts to locate terrorists overseas.
Civil libertarians may howl at what is perceived as another deeply-offensive encroachment on civil liberties, and treat the issue that such a potentially-dangerous abuse of the program threatens to dismantle society. They might say that the program fits with a pattern of recklessness and irresponsible infringement similar to the FBI’s COINTELPRO program which ran from 1956 to 1971.
Those who welcome this program may well find salvation in the comfort it provides despite an occasional inconvenience. Some may embrace and accept a program which may contravene lightly, but is fueled more by increasing security for a vulnerable public and less by paranoia or the trampling on individual rights.
While there may be a lack of solid consensus this program, at best, only gently encroaches on our civil liberties. Given the skepticism which greets any government report or program of this nature, where explanations are rejected as verbal tricks, threadbare formulations or bland assurances, an individual’s or organization’s concern should not be spurned. The preeminent purpose of this surveillance program is to create a blanket of insurance meant to protect people, a serious and vital task, from undetectable, unpredictable and catastrophic terror attacks, none of which strain credulity.
This is not the first time civil liberties have been interrupted, however slightly, or the intrusive role of government has been called into question. For example: Habeas Corpus has been fully suspended twice; both were in cases of national emergency in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1861, Abraham suspended the writ due to riots and the Union crumbling into chaos. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney responded to the suspension with vitriol to which Lincoln responded with eloquence: “Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?”
This program, ten years in the making, may provoke humor or an insipid reference to an Orwellian society. This isn’t such a program.
This program is an affirmation of long-held convictions of our country.[WSJ] [FBI.gov]