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Experts Urge Restructuring of US Intelligence Agencies - 2003-10-14

The commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001 is hearing a number of proposals, some of them from current and former top intelligence officials, about possible changes to the U.S. intelligence structure.

Former intelligence officials say the U.S. intelligence community was shaken to the core by the September 11 attacks. John MacGaffin, formerly the assistant Deputy Director of Operations at the CIA, says the attacks underscore the need for strengthened domestic intelligence.

"We have to have a proactive approach, and that is domestic intelligence," he said. "And that is intelligence gathering. And that is very difficult for Americans to contemplate. But if we don't do it, the bad guys are going to continue to beat us as they beat us in 9-11 [September 11], which was truly an intelligence failure, a systemic failure of which multiple elements of our government bear responsibility."

In the United States, domestic and foreign intelligence are separate, with domestic intelligence duties under the purview of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is primarily a law enforcement agency, and foreign intelligence gathering, handled by the CIA.

Todd Masse, an intelligence specialist at the Congressional Research Service, says the United States has always been wary of granting too much power to intelligence agencies, especially in the domestic arena.

"Historically, the reasons why domestic intelligence was separated from foreign intelligence in the United States is that the U.S. was simply reluctant to have a domestic spy agency, a Gestapo," he explained. "I mean, coming out of World War II, what we were operating against, and we didn't want it reinvented here in the United States."

Analysts say there are three broad ideas for changing domestic intelligence. One calls for beefing up the FBI's domestic intelligence capability. Another would give the new Department of Homeland Security a domestic intelligence arm. And the third is to create an entirely new, autonomous domestic intelligence agency along the lines of Britain's MI 5.

There is considerable praise for the FBI's efforts. But many intelligence analysts believe law enforcement and intelligence do not mix. Martin Rudner, director of the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University in Canada, says the cultures of intelligence agencies and police forces are quite different.

"I think the real tension there always is in intelligence, is between intelligence and law enforcement," said Mr. Rudner. "And to use the metaphor, intelligence tries to string you along. Law enforcement tries to string you up. They have different mandates.

"The intelligence agency says, let's monitor this because we want to identify all the people involved in the network of the violation of law," he continued. "Whereas a law enforcement agency says, having seen a felony, it's my duty to bring this to the prosecutors with the evidence so that charges can be laid."

Amy Zegart, an intelligence specialist at the University of California at Los Angeles, says there is also a problem with coordination and cooperation among the some 35 U.S. government agencies that deal with intelligence in one form or another.

"There's no question that what we have is a community of a number of different agencies which have a very difficult time working together, in part simply because there are so many of them, in part because of legal barriers, and in part because there's no one person in charge of the intelligence budget and who can set the programmatic priorities and back those priorities up," said Ms. Zegart.

Some observers, such as former CIA Director John Deutsch, also want to see further centralization of intelligence, the creation of a kind of "intelligence czar." In theory, there already is such a post. Under the post-World War II National Security Act, the head of the CIA is also the Director of Central Intelligence, the titular head of the entire intelligence community. But, in reality, say intelligence analysts, he has virtually no control over the budgets or programs of the multiplicity of agencies that deal in intelligence.