The Bush administration says information published this week regarding a new government informant program was “premature” and that officials are nowhere near ready to implement it.
A Justice Department spokesman, however, did confirm the program’s existence today, directing WorldNetDaily to a website located at www.citizenscorp.gov. He said the site contained all the information the agency currently was prepared to release regarding “Operation TIPS,” a new anti-terrorism informant program described as the “Terrorism Information and Prevention System.”
The information on the site “is probably far less than you’re interested in,” the spokesman, who did not identify himself, told WND. “We don’t have much more to say about it right now except what’s there.”
Asked about specifics of the program in a report published by The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, the Justice Department official said there was nothing to confirm.
“All of the stuff that got out was so premature it was ridiculous,” he said. “The program is still in development.”
According to the Herald report, the administration – under the guise of President Bush’s Citizen’s Corps volunteer program begun in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks – is seeking to recruit up to 1 million mail carriers, utility workers and others who have frequent access to private homes as terrorist informants.
Based on information published on the Citizens Corps website, the program was scheduled to begin in the next few months.
“TIPS is scheduled to be launched in late summer or early fall 2002,” says the website. “The goal of the program is to establish a reliable and comprehensive national system for reporting suspicious, and potentially terrorist-related, activity.”
“We’re hoping to have all the details finalized by August or September,” said the department spokesman. “That’s going to be about the earliest” that officials will have the infrastructure in place, he said.
Other reports claim the government will initiate TIPS under the auspice of a 10-city trial program, but administration officials are not saying which cities are involved in the trial.
Also, officials have refused to explain how a federal informant program could pass constitutional muster, while a similar state or local program likely would not. Civil-liberty groups worry about the potential for abusing the rights of innocent citizens.
The TIPS website says informant data gathered by “several industries” would be collected at a single “central reporting center.” And over time, “Operation TIPS will be phased in across the country to enable the system to build its capacity to receive an increasing volume of tips,” said the website.
“The Department of Justice is discussing participation with several industry groups whose workers are ideally suited to help in the anti-terrorism effort because their routines allow them to recognize unusual events and have expressed a desire for a mechanism to report these events to authorities,” said the site.
Officials say the program will rely on worker-informants to “use their common sense and knowledge of their work environment to identify suspicious or unusual activity.”