March 23, 2006

Pentagon hired contractor to advise on collecting information on churches, mosques, other U.S. sites

by Jonathan S. Landay
Knight Ridder Newspapers
A Pentagon intelligence agency that kept files on American anti-war activists hired one of the contractors who bribed former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., to help it collect data on houses of worship, schools, power plants and other locations in the United States.

MZM Inc., headed by Mitchell Wade, also received three contracts totaling more than $250,000 to provide unspecified "intelligence services" to the White House, according to documents obtained by Knight Ridder. The White House didn't respond to an inquiry about what those intelligence services entailed.

MZM's Pentagon and White House deals were part of tens of millions of dollars in federal government business that Wade's company attracted beginning in 2002.
MZM and Wade, who pleaded guilty last month to bribing Cunningham and unnamed Defense Department officials to steer work to his firm, are the focus of ongoing probes by Pentagon and Department of Justice investigators.

In February 2003, MZM won a two-month contract worth $503,144.70 to provide technical support to the Pentagon's Joint Counter-Intelligence Field Activity, or CIFA. The top-secret agency was created five months earlier primarily to protect U.S. defense personnel and facilities from foreign terrorists.

The job involved advising CIFA on selecting software and technology designed to ferret out commercial and government data that could be used in what's called a Geospatial Information System. A GIS system inserts information about geographic locations, such as buildings, into digital maps produced from satellite photographs.

According to a "statement of work," the data that CIFA was interested in obtaining included "maps, street addresses, lines of communication, critical infrastructure elements, demographic and other pertinent sources that would support geocoding and multi-level analysis."

Geocoding involves assigning latitudes and longitudes to locations, such as street addresses, so they can be displayed as points on maps. Such tools increasingly are being used by U.S. corporations and law enforcement agencies.

MZM was to "assist the government in identifying and procuring data" on maps, as well as "airports, ports, dams, churches/mosques/synagogues, schools (and) power plants," said the statement of work.

"In many cases, the government already owns such data, and for reasons of economy, government-owned data is preferred," said the statement. It isn't clear why U.S. intelligence agencies couldn't do the work themselves.

Navy Cmdr. Gregory Hicks, a Pentagon spokesman, said MZM began working on the project in October 2002, when the agency was created.

Its job was to help the agency integrate technology into its "information architecture to help CIFA use available (satellite) imagery, which is produced legally by other commercial and government agencies," Hicks said.

"GIS software ... is designed to allow integration of geographic and imagery data with threat information to provide complex analytic products," he said. "Not knowing the location of key infrastructure and points of interest, such as bridges, chemical plants, schools, parks, and even religious facilities, as they relate to threat information, could significantly affect the accuracy of such analysis and plans and lead to disastrous results."

He was unable to discuss further details of CIFA's dealings with MZM, citing the ongoing investigations into Wade's dealings with the Pentagon.

CIFA recently has come under fire following disclosures that it maintained information on individuals and groups involved in peaceful anti-war protests at defense facilities and recruiting offices.

The information was stored in a database that was supposed to be reserved for reports related to potential foreign terrorist activity.

In a March 8 letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a senior Pentagon official said that a review of the Cornerstone database had identified 186 "protest-related reports" containing the names of 43 people that were mistakenly retained in the database.

"These reports have since been removed from the Cornerstone database and refresher training on intelligence oversight and database management is being given to all CI (counter-intelligence) and intelligence personnel," said the letter from Robert W. Rogalski, an acting deputy undersecretary of defense.

The disclosure that CIFA was storing information on anti-war activities added to concerns that the Bush administration may have used its war on terrorism to give government agencies expanded power to monitor Americans' finances, associations, travel and other activities.

The administration's domestic eavesdropping program and FBI monitoring of environmental, animal rights and anti-war groups have also fueled such fears. The administration contends that its programs are legal and insists that they're designed to ensure civil liberties while protecting national security.

A Washington Post story last year contained a brief reference to the White House contracts in a report on the company's dealings with the Pentagon.

Wade, who faces up to 20 years in prison, was one of four men charged in the Cunningham case. Cunningham, who resigned from Congress in November after serving for 15 years, was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison earlier this month.


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