The Defense Intelligence Agency is seeking an exemption from US law to give officers greater latitude in interviewing potential intelligence sources inside the US, the agency's top lawyers said on Friday.
The provision, which was already approved by the Senate, would allow defense intelligence officers to interview potential intelligence sources inside the US without first identifying themselves as US government officials.
The lawyers said the agency's efforts to recruit spies inside the country, something they said had become an increasing part of the agency's mission, had been hamstrung by provisions of the Privacy Act, which require that government employees notify Americans when they are collecting information from them.
The lawyers said the change would merely extend to the Defense Intelligence Agency an authority already granted to the CIA and law enforcement agencies for their intelligence-collection missions. They said the DIA had no intention of spying on Americans, but needed the new authority to help identify and recruit sources knowledgeable about terrorist groups, weapons proliferation or other activities of interest to US military commanders.
The House has not yet approved any measure that would provide the Defense Intelligence Agency with the exemption, but the agency lawyers said they hoped a House-Senate conference committee would agree to include the exemption in a final version of the Intelligence Authorization Act already passed by the Senate.
Jim Schmidli, the agency's deputy general counsel for operations, said the current rules amounted to a "cold shower" for a potential source.
"Our collectors have come in and said this just isn't working," Schmidli said.
Under the change being sought by the agency, the DIA officer would not need to disclose his affiliation until he actually sought to recruit a potential source.
A Democratic congressional official said the proposal had won backing from Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee. But the official said there was some concern among Democrats that civil liberties groups might see the proposal as a way to allow defense intelligence officers to play an overly broad role in intelligence-gathering within the US.
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