Spying out New Roles for Central Intelligence Agency the Best Approach to Economics and Law Enforcement Is a Cautious One

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FOUR years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Intelligence Agency is still looking for something to do - and it is still nibbling around a couple of areas that it generally ought to avoid. These are law enforcement and economics. Both areas are murky, but both have lines that the CIA ought not to cross. The basic law creating the CIA is clear. The National Security Act of 1947 provides: "The Agency shall have no police, subpoena, or law enforcement powers or internal security functions." In almost half a century, this law has been amended many times, but the language remains an expression of the historic American antipathy to a national police force, especially one that operates in secret. (J. Edgar Hoover created such a force in the FBI while Congress wasn't looking, but that's another story.) The intelligence community has operated on the basis that the FBI chases foreign spies in the United States and the CIA goes after them abroad. This distinction was never as clear in practice as it was on paper, and now it is even fuzzier. We are worried less about foreign spies and more about terrorists, drug traffickers, and a general category that CIA director John Deutch calls "international criminals." These people, of whatever nationality, move themselves, their money, and sometimes their bombs from country to country in blithe disregard of national boundaries. Today's threats Of them all, terrorists are the only new threat. Drug traffickers are not much different from the rum-runners of the Prohibition era. There have always been international criminals, people who operate across international borders or who flee from one country to another to escape arrest or prosecution or to dispose of stolen goods. One prominent example is Robert Vesco, who is charged with massive securities fraud and is currently in Cuba. We don't need an intelligence agency to tell us where these people are; we just need diplomacy to get them extradited. Let us hope that nobody is thinking about a covert action to kidnap them. Both the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Agency provided significant assistance to Colombian police in the operation that broke up the Cali drug cartel. That was a good thing to do. It suggests that perhaps the law ought to be amended to allow the CIA to give limited assistance to foreign law-enforcement agencies. But this ought to be tightly controlled. …