In 1975, the Civil Applications Committee was formally established to provide oversight and coordination of the release of certain declassified data collected by remote imagery and sensory applications. The CAC is composed of eleven departments and independent agencies, but the US Geological Survey, through the Interior Department, is delegated the permanent chairmanship of the committee.
Operating under USGS, the CAC reviews civillian requests for classified reconnaissance information and makes recommendations to the intelligence community, which has the final word on what gets declassified. This intelligence data has been instrumental in helping scientist studying earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, landslides, pollution - and lest we forget - climate change.
Now, however, the Bush administration plans to abolish the committee and create a office in the Department of Homeland Security to review such requests and others from law enforcement agencies. Scientists are concerned that their requests could be sidetracked or delayed as security and law enforcement needs get priority.Yes. Call it a two-fer - they can keep data on climate change classified and under wraps, while simultaneously stepping up the efforts of the federal government to spy on us.
The shift would be a "grave mistake," and the administration should rethink its plan, said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the USGS and a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Dicks said he's heard from federal scientists who don't like the plan. "They are worried," he said. "The scientists say this information is very valuable to them, and they are concerned this new office will be looking more at homeland security and law enforcement."
The proposed change also has raised concerns on Capitol Hill that military spy satellites and other intelligence assets could be used to give federal and local law enforcement officials data that they could use to target illegal immigrants and drug smugglers, among other things.
"We believe the elimination of the civilian orientation of the Civil Applications Committee represents explicit harm in the near term to USGS and other civilian federal agencies, and it represents a potentially serious harm over the longer term to the constitutional protections U.S. citizens expect and deserve," Dicks said in a letter to administration officials.
So there is a question for those who would be our next President. "Will you restore the Civil Applications Committee to the USGS, or leave such decisions to Homeland Security?"