Think Tanks - Create New
Homeland Intel Agency
Strip FBI Of Domestic Intelligence


WASHINGTON (UPI) -- A high-powered independent task force recommended to the White House on Monday that it strip the FBI of much of its domestic intelligence investigation responsibilities and create a new homeland intelligence agency.
The recommendation is contained in a report, "Protecting America's Freedom in the Information Age," produced by the Markle Foundation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Brookings Institution.
As the White House and Congress struggle over whether someone should have "connected the dots" of intelligence that might have led to the prevention of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the task force asserts that only a new agency, carefully designed to avoid trampling civil rights and to provide meaningful, collated intelligence, can accomplish the task.
"We think the public discussions in recent weeks have not really grasped what's going on," Zoe Baird told United Press International in an interview.
"In fact, the discussion should be about how we should set up a domestic intelligence in a systematic way for the first time in a generation."
Baird, a former member of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and former Netscape Chief Executive Officer James Barksdale headed the panel.
The failure to stop Sept. 11, despite serious indications that a major event was being planned, was not the fault of the FBI agents who never "connected the dots."
"It was not about incompetence. It was about incapacity," said Philip Zelikow, executive director of the task force.
Members of the task force were scheduled on Monday to brief Tom Ridge, director for homeland security.
The panel is concerned by the FBI's checkered history in conducting domestic intelligence, as highlighted by the 1975 Church Committee report, a Senate inquiry into abuses of power by the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies.
"We need a very careful balance between security needs and privacy needs," Baird said. "Every time (we) set up a domestic agency for intelligence they go overboard."
"Protecting freedom also requires securing the values that define America, including the civil liberties and rights to privacy that make our country special," states the report.
The task force asserts that the FBI has a role to play in counterintelligence investigations and when collecting information to use as evidence in a criminal case against suspected terrorists.
But generating domestic intelligence for policy-makers should be the domain of another agency, possibly the proposed Department of Homeland Security.
"The Department of Justice and the FBI should be the lead agencies for law enforcement, exercising the power to investigate crimes, charge people with crimes, perhaps take away their liberty and prepare cases for trial and appeal," the report states.
"The DHS should be the lead agency for shaping domestic intelligence to inform policy-makers, especially on the analytical side, so that there is some separation between the attitude and priorities of intelligence analysis and the different, more concentrated focus of people authorized to use force on the street to make arrests and pursue or detain citizens."
There are two problems with the FBI, say Philip Zelikow, executive director of the task force, and Baird.
First, allowing the FBI broad power to investigate citizens not necessarily suspected of a crime invites a conflict of interest.
"The FBI has the power to arrest, the most potent power," Baird told UPI. "They should not be the agency collecting a vast array of open source information privately against people who are not targets of law enforcement investigations. The division is critical."
Second, the FBI is not equipped to provide an analytical intelligence report, designed to help leaders plan their next move, understand specific threats, find vulnerabilities or predict possible attacks.
"The FBI has no institutional capability to analyze domestic intelligence," Zelikow said.
"The role of analysts is not valued at the FBI the way it is in other intelligence agencies. There is insufficient funding and staffing to conduct the kind of intelligence analysis that is needed for domestic intelligence in the counter-terrorism area," states the report.
Creating a central point of authority for domestic intelligence is only half the battle. Next comes the crafting of rules on how information can be handled and which agencies can receive what.
The Department of Homeland Security, or whatever entity takes on the mission, would be the gatekeeper of classified domestic intelligence information, making sure it gets shared as widely as needed without violating the privacy of innocent citizens.
To do that, the task force envisions a new, distributed and closely linked national network of all local, state and federal computer systems, including the Federal Aviation Administration and Immigration and Naturalization Service.
By linking all computers, analysts in any agency would be able to search other offices' data banks for critical information without delay or interference -- all too often the case in the federal government.
The concept is simple and uses existing databases -- and it might have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks, the report says.
Each person buying a plane ticket could be checked against a list of possible terrorists. In August 2001, Nawaq Alhamzi and Khalis Al Midhar bought tickets to fly on American Airlines Flight 77, which later crashed into the Pentagon. Both men used their real names.
Their names would have shown up as suspected terrorists on a State Department/INS watch list called TIPOFF, as they were both sought by the FBI and CIA after they attended a terrorist meeting in Malaysia.
Their names could have been checked for common addresses. The search would have revealed the men shared a common address with Mohamed Atta, who flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and Marwan Al Shehhi, who flew United 175 into the South Tower, and who in turn shared another address with Khalid Al Midhar.
A check of frequent flyer numbers would have revealed Majed Moqed (American 77) shared a number with Al Midhar.
With Atta identified as a possible associate of the wanted terrorists, searching Atta's phone number would have led analysts to five other Sept. 11 hijackers.
A check of an INS database of expired visas would have led to Ahmed Alghamdi. Doing the same address and phone number searches would have led to the other hijackers who were on Flight 93, which crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside.
Such data searches would carry with them an "audit trail," allowing the government to identify who conducted them and why, in the event of a complaint.
Baird and Zelikow said that private databases should also be connected to the network, allowing the government to search records of companies such as Federal Express or of doctors' offices as they are piecing together intelligence.
Participation in such a program would be voluntary, at first, Baird said -- but predicted if a terrorist attack is carried out that might have been prevented with a simple search of private business' records, that could change.
The task force drew on 44 experts, including Utah Gov. Michael O. Levitt, former Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre, now of CSIS, and former Strategic Allied Command Europe chief Gen. Wesley Clark.
The report is available online at
Copyright © 2002 United Press International


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