Trying to loosen decades-old limitations, the Defense Department is asking Congress to allow its intelligence agents to go undercover when they approach Americans who may have useful national-security information.
Current law makes them identify themselves as intelligence operatives.
The provision found in a proposed wide-ranging intelligence bill would give the Defense Intelligence Agency new latitude to meet U.S. citizens without pulling out their DIA badges and later sending a formal notice of the target's rights under the landmark 1974 Privacy Act.
The regulations are a vestige of intelligence scandals during the 1960s and 1970s, when the Defense Department was taken to task for spying on American protesters of the Vietnam War. Civil liberties advocates raise similar opposition now, worried that the powers the DIA is seeking could be abused.
DIA General Counsel George Peirce says the Pentagon agency is seeking flexibility that the civilian FBI and CIA have had for years but has been is needed even more desperately since Sept. 11, 2001.
To make its case, the DIA is taking the unusual step of allowing its lawyers to brief reporters because it feels public information available in the past didn't adequately explain their rationale for the new powers.
The DIA serves as an adviser to senior policy-makers, helps protect U.S. forces at home and abroad and supports war planners who need to know about military capabilities of other countries.
Peirce and his deputy, Jim Schmidli, say the changes they are seeking would be limited. The agency's intelligence officers could go undercover to approach an American only if they were making an initial contact to assess whether the person may have useful information. An operational plan would have to be approved by the agency's director or someone he designates.
Only then could the DIA official pretend to be the representative of another government agency, such as the Agriculture Department, or assume a more creative identity off the government payroll, AP reported.