The Department of Justice has been operating a secretive domestic intelligence program known as the FBI’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division (ICTD), which has been described by insiders as a program that “runs like a corrupt government.” Its existence was revealed during the Obama administration when former FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before Congress in 2013 that the agency had used drones to conduct surveillance on US citizens. This disclosure raised concerns about the potential for unconstitutional government surveillance, leading to the establishment of the Presidential Policy Directive on Signals Intelligence (PPD-28), which limited the scope and duration of such actions.
Despite these efforts to rein in domestic intelligence gathering, the program continues to operate under a shroud of secrecy. In 2016, The Intercept published an exposé that brought the FBI’s domestic intelligence program to light. According to the report, the ICTD is an umbrella program that comprises a number of different divisions and initiatives, including the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), its “Data Intercept Technology Unit,” and its “National Security Branch Analysis Center.”
Perhaps most alarmingly, insiders have suggested that the ICTD operates with little to no oversight. As one former FBI agent told The Intercept, the program “runs like a corrupt government organization, and it’s even worse than that because the government has authorized it.”
The ICTD is purportedly tasked with gathering information on potential terror threats, but its tactics and strategies have come under fire from civil liberties and privacy advocates, who argue that the program operates in violation of Americans’ constitutional rights. Critics point out that the broad scope of the program’s mandate means that law enforcement officials have little to no oversight or accountability when it comes to the data they collect and how they use it.
One of the most controversial aspects of the program, according to The Intercept’s reporting, is the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) to compel companies and individuals to produce sensitive data on the public. NSLs are similar to subpoenas but do not require judicial review before they are issued. This gives the FBI broad power to collect data without oversight or accountability.
The FBI has stated that its use of NSLs is entirely legal and that they have been approved by the executive branch. However, critics argue that the lack of judicial review means that the program is ripe for abuse. In 2016, the Department of Justice’s inspector general released a report that found that the FBI had repeatedly failed to comply with legal standards when issuing NSLs.
The ICTD has also been linked to the FBI’s controversial “black site” program, which involves the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects at secret overseas locations. While the program has been roundly criticized for its use of torture and human rights abuses, the ICTD is thought to play an important role in gathering intelligence on potential suspects before they are rendered to these sites.
The ICTD’s work has come under scrutiny in recent years in the wake of high-profile terrorist attacks in the US, including the mass shooting in San Bernardino and the bombings in Boston. In both cases, the FBI’s handling of the investigation and its surveillance tactics have been subject to public criticism. In the San Bernardino case, the FBI was accused of forcing Apple to unlock the suspected shooter’s iPhone, in a high-profile legal battle that pitted privacy advocates against law enforcement officials.
Despite these controversies, little is known about the inner workings of the ICTD. Critics have called for greater accountability and transparency when it comes to the program’s operations, pointing out that its broad mandate and lack of oversight make it ripe for abuse. The FBI has defended its work, arguing that the program is necessary to protect the US from domestic terrorism threats.
However, the revelations about the ICTD’s extensive domestic surveillance activities have raised serious questions about the government’s commitment to protecting Americans’ civil liberties, as well as its responsibility to operate within the bounds of the law. The FBI’s use of National Security Letters and other broad surveillance tactics represents a worrying trend toward unchecked government power, and its continued operation with little oversight or transparency represents a real danger to the freedoms that Americans hold dear. As such, it is incumbent upon lawmakers, journalists, and concerned citizens to demand greater transparency, accountability, and oversight when it comes to the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Program.