Crimes Force Agency Cooperation

The Pentagon, CIA and Justice Department are working together against computer crime

International computer-aided crime is forcing greater cooperation among law enforcement, intelligence and defense agencies, raising a host of awkward legal difficulties, said senior government officials.


"Computer crime will be the next area of overlap. It already is, although we've only begun to realize it," said Michael Vatis, an assistant deputy to Jamie Gorelick, the No. 2 official in the Department of Justice.

The 1998 intelligence authorization bill pushed the cooperation a step further, allowing the CIA to collect information on individuals overseas as part of a criminal investigation.

Government officials are already expanding the FBI's computer crime division and are combining their diplomatic, economic, legal and intelligence resources to pressure countries in the Caribbean to break up computerized money-laundering schemes, said Jonathan Winer, deputy assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs. "Important crime, big crime, is cross-border crime... [and computer-aided crime] will call for even greater cooperation than now," he said.

One example of a suspect group cited by a government official is the European Union Bank, chartered in Antigua.

Moreover, "we [must] rethink the way we look at [international] crime," and perhaps reshuffle the roles of government agencies, said Jeffrey Smith, who served as general counsel at the CIA until Oct. 1. "We have a long way to go," he said.

Vatis, Smith and Winer spoke Sept. 20 at a Washington conference organized by the American Bar Association.

U.S. officials warned against too much collaboration among agencies, partly because some existing laws bar cooperation. The law creates difficult questions once government goes in search of computer hackers, warned Gorelick. For example, a hacker suspected of committing a crime may turn out to be a U.S. citizen or resident based in the United States, granting him stronger legal protections than if he were a foreigner based overseas, she said.

Moreover, information collected about the hacker by an intelligence agency can't be easily used in court, partly because the government may not want to reveal how it gathered the information, said officials.

"We cannot go too far [in cooperating].... Our missions are different," said Smith. "We have no police role and should not."

If the CIA pursues international criminal suspects, for example, the U.S. courts will extend their authority over the CIA's secret operations, hobbling intelligence efforts, he said.

Government officials should work hard to separate intelligence and law enforcement efforts, especially because intelligence agencies created for overseas operations were unfortunately drawn into domestic surveillance during the 1960s, said Gorelick. "It astonishes me that some people, including some in the CIA, see this as a matter of efficiency" in fighting international crime, rather than of guarded cooperation among very different organizations, Gorelick said.

Cautious cooperation is possible, said officials. For example, evidence discovered overseas by the CIA can be treated as a "room full of stuff," pending its introduction in court as criminal evidence, said Smith. Until then, intelligence agencies can examine it for intelligence information without stepping on the FBI's toes.

Also, intelligence agencies can use their specialized skills to create an international map of crime, such as fraud organized in Nigeria or drug smuggling conducted via Caribbean islands, said Winer.

Much of the increased cooperation among intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI came after a series of spy scandals during the 1980s and 1990s, said officials. Scandals prompted a May 1995 "Report of the Joint Task Force on Intelligence and Law Enforcement," which detailed 23 areas for greater cooperation.

Recommendations included swapping people between the CIA and FBI, joint training programs, new surveillance technologies and top-level coordination, Smith said.


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