Three Reforms to Make America More Secure - Intelligence, Government Organization, Law, and Technology Must Change to Build U.S. Security

Article excerpt

America's security requirements changed abruptly on September 11. Our new opponents emphasize speed, secrecy, and surprise in their attacks. The result is that the United States is vulnerable and must reshape its defenses. While America can never be made totally safe, there are a number of prudent steps that can improve homeland security. Things can be done to make that risk manageable and build what President Bush calls "a legacy of a more secure homeland." Further changes in intelligence activities, government organization, law, and technology could help build security.

Better collection and use of intelligence are essential for homeland security. The 9/11 attacks showed a critical gap in coverage. The agencies responsible for foreign intelligence did not collect domestic information, and the FBI, which does collect domestic intelligence, used it in a piecemeal fashion to support court cases. No agency looked at the big picture.

The administration has made fixing this domestic intelligence gap a central part of the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS will not collect intelligence--in the sense that it will not have spies or operate satellites--but it will have access to all federal intelligence and will perform the essential tasks of analyzing and sharing intelligence with other agencies and with state and local governments.

The department's mandate includes access to any useful information available from any agency. Analysts can also access public information, including published material, information on Web sites, or even findings made available through speech--a speech in a mosque, for example. Previously, many FBI agents were reluctant to collect this public information, but recent changes in the attorney general's guidelines allow agents to gather knowledge available to any member of the public.

The United States may also use private data held by companies. If DHS analysts could combine credit card and travel records with intelligence reports, they could develop an accurate picture of the range and nature of terrorist activities in the United States. Right now, private companies hold credit card data in huge databases but do not routinely share it with the federal government. Giving the government access to these databases could improve our security, but it would also raise serious privacy concerns.

The new legislation does not create the kind of domestic intelligence agency found in many European countries, like the United Kingdom's M15 security service. M15's job is "to protect national security from threats such as terrorism, espionage, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." A domestic intelligence agency would, essentially, spy on Americans. The FBI already does this through wiretapping, recruiting agents, and conducting surveillance operations- -but it does so under the restrictions that come with being a law- enforcement agency. America has never had a domestic intelligence agency before. The idea of spying on Americans who have not committed a crime makes many uncomfortable and raises real constitutional issues.

Europe's extensive national police powers, although reflecting a long experience with terrorism, do not fit well with America's constitutional heritage. When Congress created the CIA in 1947, the new agency was given no police powers and was limited to foreign operations. The United States placed even more strictures on the domestic use of intelligence agencies after Watergate.

Fundamental differences between intelligence operations and law enforcement make any changes difficult. Respect for due process is essential for law enforcement but not usually a part of espionage. Law enforcement operations, sources, and methods are usually destined for public use in a trial, whereas intelligence information is rarely made public.

U.S. intelligence faces many challenges, including rebuilding the CIA's Clandestine Service, reorienting the immense investment in technical collection capabilities (in imagery and signals intelligence), and reorganizing, retraining, and recruiting to meet new kinds of threats. …