Senate panel wants DHS to focus intel activities on foreign threats

The Senate version of the annual intelligence authorization bill, which passed out of committee last week, includes a warning to DHS' intelligence arm to distinguish more carefully between its foreign and domestic missions.

By Orhan Cam Royalty-free stock photo ID: 546416560 United States Capitol Building in Washington DC USA

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is worried that the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) at the Department of Homeland Security is focusing its intelligence-gathering authorities on U.S. persons and groups, according to an unclassified legislative report that accompanies the 2022 Intelligence Authorization Act.

The report warns of the "misuse" of Title 50 authorities that permit intelligence collection against foreign targets. The report notes that "the failure of I&A to break down its budget request by mission center or function, such as open source collection, makes it difficult for the Committee to assess the extent to which I&A is using intelligence funding to gather information about the domestic activities of U.S. persons."

The committee directed I&A, in conjunction with the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to explore the possibility of pushing any I&A programs focused on domestic intelligence collection to the FBI and provide an analysis of I&A's legal authorities.

The report also hones in on efforts by DHS to send agency personnel to police protests that targeted federal facilities in 2020, complaining of the "use of I&A resources to protect monuments, memorials, and statues, appear to be focused on individuals or groups that have no link to foreign governments, foreign organizations, foreign persons, or international terrorist activities." The report notes that "despite documented problems related to I&A's collection and dissemination of open source information collected on United States persons during protests in Portland, Oregon, I&A continues to issue open source collection requirements that are both overly broad in scope and disconnected from national intelligence missions and priorities."

Workforce provisions

The report also outlines some of the intelligence community workforce measures included in the legislation. Lawmakers are asking the National Background Investigation Bureau for a report on their cybersecurity protocols to protect personality identifiable information, and information on "how these protocols compare to leading industry and government best practice" as well as the ability of NBIS to recover from attacks.

The legislation tasks ODNI with issuing policy on sharing derogatory information uncovered in background investigations on contract employees with the chief security officers of their employers, as an addition to federal insider threat policy. According to the report, "the policy must comport with privacy rights, allow individuals to verify the information, and stipulate that such sharing is only for purposes of security risk mitigation."

Another measure mandates the appointment of a diversity, equity and inclusion officer by the director of national intelligence. The DEI officer is required under the legislation to submit an annual progress report to the House and Senate intelligence committees.

The bill also requires the president to submit a report to Congress detailing a national technology strategy – a new measure that has been backed by some in the defense and intelligence communities who are concerned about advances by China in quantum computing, artificial intelligence and advanced weaponry. Relatedly, the bill tasks the director of national intelligence to create a plan for "developing and resourcing a modern digital ecosystem to enable continuous updates of artificial intelligence-powered applications."