The National Applications Office is an awful lot more interesting than it sounds. It’s not an office to deal with people applying for jobs with the Federal Government. It’s not a patent office for sticky inventions. It’s not a workplace safety evaluation agency within OSHA. The National Applications Office is a branch of the Department of Homeland Security that coordinates the use of military spy satellites to conduct surveillance against Americans, within the borders of the USA, without any search warrant.
We first took note of the move toward this office way back in the summer of 2007. When most Americans were too busy enjoying the beach to notice, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell announced that the powers of the Protect America Act, which had just been passed into law by Congress, would be used to redirect military spy satellites put into space to watch over the Soviet Union. Now, the satellites would be watching Americans, and sharing information about the activities of Americans with state and local law enforcement, to be used in investigations and prosecutions. The kicker: The spying would all take place without any search warrant to establish probable cause for suspicion.
In 2008, the FISA Amendments Act was passed, extending and expanding the unconstitutional powers of unreasonable search and seizure created under the Protect America Act. As a United States Senator, Barack Obama voted for the law, enabling satellite spying against Americans to continue. Now, with Obama as President, George W. Bush’s plans for the National Applications Office are going ahead at full pace. Obama seems rather fond of having a Big Brother eye in the sky, watching you. There are indications that satellite spying, through the National Applications Office and beyond, include massive warrantless wiretapping of Americans’ private emails and telephone calls.
Members of Congress who have been briefed on the activities of the National Applications Office have expressed grave concerns that it will be abused, and have voiced protests in the past, but Congress has provided enough funding to get the National Applications Office up and running anyway.
Thursday evening, that posture changed. Representative Jane Harman introduced H.R. 2703 and H.R. 2704, which would completely defund and stop the operations of the National Applications Office. Representative Harman is a particularly interesting person to sponsor this legislation, given that she has herself been the target of, and yet a defender of, warrantless surveillance by the Executive’s intelligence agencies.
There seems to be a lot more going on with this issue, and the personalities involved, than what we can see at first glance. I’ll be keeping an eye on both of Harman’s bills, and Harman herself, looking for the next move in this two-year struggle over satellite spying.