By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005
The CIA has plans to relocate the headquarters of its domestic division, which is responsible for operations and recruitment in the United States, from the CIA's Langley headquarters to Denver, a move designed to promote innovation, according to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials.
About $20 million has been tentatively budgeted to relocate employees of the CIA's National Resources Division, officials said. A U.S. intelligence official said the planned move, confirmed by three other government officials, was being undertaken "for operational reasons."
A CIA spokesman declined to comment. Other current and former intelligence officials said the Denver relocation reflects the desire of CIA Director Porter J. Goss to develop new ways to operate under cover, including setting up more front corporations and working closer with established international firms.
Associates of Goss said yesterday that the move was also in keeping with his desire to stop the growth of CIA headquarters and headquarters-based group-think, something he criticized frequently when he was chairman of the House intelligence committee.
Other CIA veterans said such a relocation would make no sense, given Denver's relative distance from major corporate centers. "Why would you go so far away?" one asked. "They will get disconnected."
The main function of the domestic division, which has stations in many major U.S. cities, is to conduct voluntary debriefings of U.S. citizens who travel overseas for work or to visit relatives, and to recruit foreign students, diplomats and businesspeople to become CIA assets when they return to their countries. It was unclear how many CIA employees would relocate to Denver under the plan.
Although collecting information on U.S. citizens under suspicion for terrorist links is primarily an FBI function, the CIA may also collect information on citizens under limited circumstances, according to a 1981 executive order. The exact guidelines for those operations are spelled out in a classified document signed by the CIA director and approved by the attorney general.
The Denver move, which is tentatively scheduled for next year but has not been finalized, coincides with several other developments related to the CIA's domestic intelligence work.
Last week, the CIA and FBI agreed to a new "memorandum of understanding" on domestic and foreign operations, the first change in decades. The negotiations surrounding the memo were highly contentious, with the FBI saying that it should control and approve the CIA's domestic activities, including its pool of U.S.-based assets that have been invaluable in the past to understanding the intentions of foreign nations and groups.
But the FBI is having significant problems developing its own domestic intelligence branch and the CIA is generally viewed across the intelligence community as more experienced and skilled at handling foreign informants who eventually return abroad, where the CIA has the lead in intelligence gathering and operations.
Both the CIA and FBI are trying to deepen their outreach to U.S. research and academic institutions and to private subcontractors working on major government contracts abroad.
Originally, the FBI also pressed to have the bureau disseminate all intelligence reports from sources -- foreigners or U.S. citizens -- living in the United States. It was undercut, however, by the fact that the bureau routinely falls behind in issuing counterterrorism reports and, at the time of the most heated negotiations, in December, the FBI had a backlog of more than 100 reports it had not distributed.
In response to questions this week about the new agreement, the FBI and CIA issued a joint statement to The Washington Post. "The FBI and CIA are committed to effective, joint operations to safeguard our nation," it says. "To that end, we are completing work on a memorandum of understanding that will codify our joint operating principals. We are pleased with both the process and the outcome and we recognize that our joint efforts will enhance national security."
Under the agreement, the CIA must coordinate its operations with the FBI. The CIA's domestic division has agreed to provide the FBI with more information about its operations and debriefings. One goal of updating the memo was to ensure that the two agencies were not working at cross purposes and were aware if one or the other had already recruited or debriefed someone.
It is unclear how a move to Denver would increase the effectiveness of the domestic division's operations, said several former intelligence officials.
Colorado has become a major intelligence hub since Sept. 11, 2001.
The Denver suburb of Aurora is home to the little-known Aerospace Data Facility. Located inside Buckley Air Force Base, it has become the major U.S.-based technical downlink for intelligence satellites operated by the military, the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, according to military and government documents obtained by William Arkin, author of "Code Names," a book about secret military plans and programs.
About 70 miles away, the U.S. Northern Command, based at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, is tasked with homeland defense and has been increasing its domestic intelligence work.
It could not be learned whether the CIA's Denver plans are linked to the presence of either facility.