Pentagon closes controversial intelligence unit
Published: Monday August 4, 2008

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Monday said it was closing a controversial intelligence office that had raised concerns about domestic spying by the military after the September 11 attacks.

The Defense Department said it had "disestablished" the Counterintelligence Field Activity office, or CIFA, created in February 2002 by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to manage defense and armed service efforts against intelligence threats from foreign powers and groups such as al Qaeda.

Those responsibilities will now be carried out by a new organization called the Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center, overseen by the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency.

CIFA's operations stirred concern among members of Congress and civil liberties advocates. A CIFA database known as Talon, set up to monitor threats against U.S. military installations, was found to have retained information on U.S. antiwar protesters including Quakers after they had been found to pose no security danger, officials said.

Talon, the acronym for Threat and Local Observation Notice, was ended last year as a result of the outcry. But the controversy, leading the Defense Department to reorganize CIFA's functions after a broad review of Pentagon intelligence operations, officials said.

A senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved the change after the review found the office's functions could be performed more effectively by another agency.

The Army, Air Force and Navy operate their own separate counterintelligence operations. Officials said coordinating and management function previously performed by CIFA would be taken over by the new center, which will also oversee DIA's operations in traditional espionage.

"Integration under one organization will result in greater collaboration in operational and support areas where both disciplines overlap," Army Maj. Gen. Theodore Nicholas, the center's new director, said in a statement.

(editing by Randall Mikkelsen and Alan Elsner)