The US Defense Department is expanding domestic intelligence collection in ways that could allow it so circumvent barriers to military spying on US citizens, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
Formerly focused on protecting its US bases and military operations, Pentagon intelligence collection inside the US has already expanded to cover broader terrorist threats to the country, the Post said.
However, proposed moves to further expand the military's domestic intelligence activities in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have sparked worries among politicians and civil liberties advocates that such activities could go out of control, the newspaper said.
"We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing," Senator Ron Wyden told the daily.
According to the Post, the White House is now considering expanding a secret Pentagon security agency into one which could investigate a range of domestic crimes, for which the government has used the FBI in the past.
The little-known Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) has a secret budget but is believed to already have 1,000 people on its staff, the paper said.
A recent high-level presidential commission "urged that CIFA be given authority to carry out domestic criminal investigations and clandestine operations against potential threats inside the United States," the Post said.
CIFA's expansion would build on post-9/11 efforts to break down data-sharing barriers between the domestic intelligence operations of the FBI and its international counterpart, the CIA.