“Private Eyes, They’re Watching You…”

Last week, while addressing a border security conference in El Paso, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell confirmed that about 100 people in the United States are currently subject to court-approved wiretaps. “On the U.S. persons side, it’s 100 or less,” McConnell said. “And then, the foreign side—it’s in the thousands.” The eavesdropping is part of ongoing counter-terrorism investigations. McConnell’s comments were reported in a piece by Joby Warrick in this morning’s Washington Post.

In related news, starting next Monday, U.S. intelligence agencies will begin screening thousands of people who work for charitable organizations that receive funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The move apparently comes in response to a GAO report from 2005, which revealed that six organizations receiving U.S. funding were later determined to have ties to terrorist organizations. From the Post:

The program is described in the notice as the Partner Vetting System. It demands for the first time that nongovernmental organizations file information with the government on each officer, board member and key employee and those associated with an application for AID funds or managing a project when funded.

The information is to include name, address, date and place of birth, citizenship, Social Security and passport numbers, sex, and profession or other employment data. The data collected “will be used to conduct national security screening” to ensure these persons have no connection to entities or individuals “associated with terrorism” or “deemed to be a risk to national security,” according to the notice.

Such screening normally involves sending the data to the FBI and other police and intelligence agencies to see if negative information surfaces.

The new system would also require that the groups turn over the individuals’ telephone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses, another indication that those numbers would be checked against data collected as part of a terrorist screening program run by the U.S. intelligence community.

Until now, under an earlier Bush administration initiative, nongovernmental organizations had been required to check their own employees and then certify to AID that they were certain no one was associated with individuals or groups that appeared on applicable governmental terrorist listings.