Reshaping the Nation's Security

The World and I, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Reshaping the Nation's Security


Not since the dawn of the Cold War almost 50 years ago have the nation's policymakers and public so strenuously debated the condition of our nation's security. The terrorist attacks of September 11 produced not only shock, grief, and anger but a host of pointed questions:

What did the CIA know about possible terrorist plots, and when? Why did FBI headquarters in Washington block local FBI agents from investigating suspected terrorists? Will the Justice Department's new surveillance rules result in excessive prying on individuals? Is President Bush's proposed new department for homeland defense a good idea? How can we reshape the nation's security and protect traditional American liberties?

The United States spends between $30 and $40 billion annually on intelligence gathering and analysis, both overseas and at home. It is obvious, in the wake of September 11, that we are not getting our money's worth. In response to public demands, Congress has launched investigations into the past performance and future role of America's intelligence community.

This Special Report examines the proposed Department of Homeland Security and whether the traditional agencies of American intelligence- -the CIA and the FBI--can meet the new threat of terrorism.

The new cabinet department, according to Professor Stephen Sloan of the University of Oklahoma, calls for an organizational transformation at the federal level not seen since the National Security Act of 1947. It focuses on four areas: border and transportation security; emergency preparedness and response; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear countermeasures; and infrastructure protection. Attempting to institute all four programs at the same time is a major challenge. In addition, the new department will create a unit to analyze threats based on information acquired from the entire intelligence community.

Whatever form the new Department of Homeland Security takes, says Sloan, it must act in true partnership with the state and local authorities who are the first to deal with threats and incidents. To modify the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill's adage, "Terrorism is local."

The first thing to remember about the CIA, writes Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century, is that the vast majority of its intelligence officers are not spies but recruiters and trainers.

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