WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano plans to kill a program the Bush administration began that would use U.S. spy satellites for domestic security and law enforcement, a government official said Monday.
Napolitano recently reached her decision discussing the program with law enforcement officials, who told her it was not an urgent issue, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The program, announced in 2007, would have required the Homeland Security Department to use overhead and mapping imagery from existing satellites for homeland security and law enforcement purposes.
Privacy and civil liberty concerns delayed the program, called the National Applications Office.
The program was included in the Obama administration's 2010 budget request, said Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat and House homeland security committee member who was briefed on the department's classified intelligence budget.
Harman said Monday she had not been given final word that the program would be killed. She said she would talk to Napolitano on Tuesday.
Harman has been outspoken about her concerns that the program is unnecessary, far-reaching and open-ended.
"I thought this was just an invitation to huge mischief," Harman said. Of killing the program, she said, "It shows real leadership on the part of Janet Napolitano."
Napolitano began looking at the program shortly after she became secretary, said Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa , who said the department expects to announce the results of that review soon.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said he hopes the department won't cancel the program.
"If it is true, it's a very big mistake," said King, who is the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. "This is definitely a step back in the war on terror."
For years, domestic agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Interior Department have had access to this satellite imagery for scientific research, to assist in response to natural disasters like hurricanes and fires, and to map out vulnerabilities during a major public event such as the Super Bowl.
Since 1974, the agency's requests satellite imagery have been made through the federal interagency group, the Civil Applications Committee.
The Bush administration, however, decided to funnel the requests through the Homeland Security Department and expand their use for homeland security and law enforcement purposes.
After receiving a letter from Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, Napolitano decided the program should be canceled.
Bratton, in his role as head of the Major City Chiefs Association, wrote on June 21 that the program, as envisioned by the Bush administration, is not an urgent need for local law enforcement.
Instead, Bratton said, Homeland Security should focus on the fusion centers across the country and improving information-sharing with state and local officials to improve the domestic intelligence picture.
Bratton said he was unaware whether Bush administration officials consulted police chiefs about the satellite program.
"To my knowledge, this is the first opportunity major law enforcement organizations have had to participate in this significant and complex initiative," he said in the letter.
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