Federal law enforcement officials investigating drug runners and white-collar criminals are clamoring for access to the National Security Agency's controversial spy tools in a new turf war between agencies.
The New York Times reports
that federal intelligence agencies often feel slighted because they are denied access to the data, which they say is typically shared within an exclusive club made up of the Justice Department and CIA.
"Every agency wants to think that their mission has to be the highest priority," said a former White House intelligence official involved with the turf issues.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, Pentagon and Homeland Security Department have requested access to the tools in order to aid investigations of drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and copyright infringement.
Federal officials complain to the New York Times that their requests are often denied because the cases are not a top priority, and that the cadre of law enforcement officials is more interested in protecting its turf.
The tools and data collected by the NSA was recently disclosed by Edward Snowden, prompting Washington lawmakers to pursue legislation restricting the activity that was initially authorized by the Patriot Act.
The act was passed following the September 11 terrorist attacks to give law enforcement tools it said it needed to track terrorists. However, lawmakers critical of the legislation predicted those investigations would be expanded to scrutinize non-violent crimes.
In order to gain access to the NSA's data, the smaller agencies are insisting their investigations are targeting national security threats.
But intelligence officials are skeptical, and say they are keeping a tight leash on the NSA activities for fear the eavesdropping spyware could be misused by the smaller agencies and violate privacy rights and other abuses.
"I would have been very uncomfortable if we had let these other agencies get access to the raw NSA data," said Timothy H. Edgar, a former White House intelligence officer.
Officials in the national intelligence director's office and FBI have seen the information misused in the past and fear new wiretapping controversies if the other agencies are allowed access to the data, the paper reported.
The outcry over the spy programs has been furious, but "could have been much, much worse, if we had let these other agencies loose and we had real abuses," Edgar said.
"That was the nightmare scenario we were worried about, and that hasn’t happened," Edgar said.
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