Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is Hummus a Terrorist Group or a Delicious Chick Pea Dish?

Two years ago, Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis to study the feasibility of creating a domestic counterterrorism intelligence agency - which really means to study the feasibility of taking that function away from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. DHS contracted with the RAND Corporation, asking them to consider the question of whether a new organization could improve current domestic intelligence operations, and RAND has now released its report on that matter.

I think the report is disappointingly wishy-washy, full of 'on-the-one-hand-this but on-the-other-hand-that' type of discussion, and it mostly talks around the central question: do we or do we not need an alternative to the law enforcement-centric FBI in order to have an effective domestic antiterrorism effort? Yes, we do, but RAND seems to be afraid to break the FBI's rice bowl by saying that in so many words.

RAND did throw out a few good tid-bits about the benefits of creating a new agency. A separate agency could bring clarity to the preventive security mission of a domestic intelligence agency, which is something the FBI will never do so long as it's divided into separate police and intelligence elements. Furthermore, a separate service would be able to draw from a broader recruitment pool; officials in domestic intelligence services in other democracies told RAND they felt they were able to attract talent not normally drawn to a law enforcement culture.

That last point - the fact that distinctly different types of people are attracted to police and intelligence agencies - is a big one in favor of replacing the FBI's National Security Division with a whole new agency. The FBI recruits people who, in the main, are unabashed cultural illiterates [my personal opinion, obviously, but one that I formed based on experience working in law enforcement type environments; Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, but I know lots of Federally-employed people who live it all the same, and they seem content]. See this and this for examples of what I mean. Why should an FBI agent have to learn the difference between Sunni and Shite, or Iran and Iraq? It's all a lot of confusing foreign stuff, and busy agents can't be bothered to try to learn such trivia.

The senior leadership is just as obtuse in that regard as the rank-and-file agents. Consider this clip from a video deposition by Dale Watson, the former FBI Counterterrorism Division Director, in which he lamely insisted that it would be immaterial whether the IRA or an Islamic extremist group were the object of a bombing investigation because "the basic elements of the crime are the same." That's the police mentality. It has its place, but that place is not in an intelligence or couterterrorism agency.

We need a domestic counterterorrism agency staffed by people who think it does, in fact, make a difference whether they are working against Irish nationalists or Islamic jihadis. Those people won't work in a stepchild division of the FBI where they will always play second fiddle to the guns-and-badges guys

1 comment:

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here: