Alexander's Column

Coming to terms with Intelligence and DHS Reform

Mark Alexander · Jan. 21, 2005

In response to the 9/11 Commission Report, Congress recently passed sweeping legislation to overhaul U.S. intelligence services and capabilities. We at The Patriot agree that now is the time to step back and assess the state of our national intelligence and security apparatus, and to fix what doesn’t work by replicating what does. In order to give our readers the fullest understanding of the new law’s scope, we offer this synopsis of its major points, which can be broadly divided into four areas: intelligence, homeland security, immigration, and civil law.

In the area of intelligence, the law will:

–Create the new Director of National Intelligence position to direct and manage all agencies of the intelligence community and to serve as the principal intelligence adviser to the president. The DNI will have a staff but will operate separately from the CIA, NSA, and the other military and civilian intelligence agencies. The DNI will also have considerable authority over much of the nation’s intelligence budget.

–Restructure the National Counter-Terrorism Center, established last August by executive order and designed to analyze terrorism-related intelligence and conduct strategic counter-terrorism planning. The center was formerly part of the CIA, and its director was appointed by the CIA director. The president will now appoint the center’s director, with Senate confirmation.

–Require information sharing by intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security agencies; mandate links among federal, state, and local agencies and the private sector; and create standards for issuing security clearances and classifying information.

In the area of homeland security, the law will:

–Require the DHS to test advanced screening systems for airline passengers; upgrade screening procedures and security in baggage areas; enhance air-cargo security; improve training for federal air marshals; upgrade explosives-detection systems; and continue developing advanced detection equipment for use at airports.

–Create a National Counterproliferation Center to address international weapons-proliferation threats, and establish mandatory penalties for possession and trafficking in anti-aircraft-missile systems.

In the area of immigration, the law will:

–Strengthen visa-application requirements and establish a visa/passport-security program within the State Department; establish a Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center, and make smuggling aliens into the U.S. a federal crime; allow deportation of non-citizens who receive training from designated terrorist organizations; and require the General Accounting Office to study vulnerabilities in the U.S. asylum system.

–Add 10,000 full-time border patrol agents and 4,000 new investigators for Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the next five years, as well as increase the number of beds available to house aliens awaiting deportation by 40,000.

Finally, in the area of civil law, the law will:

–Require federal agencies to establish minimum standards for drivers’ licenses and birth certificates. Of note, however, states will not be prevented from issuing drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens.

–Create an independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Board composed of private citizens appointed by the president to examine executive-branch policies to ensure that they don’t violate civil liberties.

–Allow secret grand-jury information to be shared with government officials in order to prevent or respond to terrorist threats; criminalize possessing or trafficking in weapons of mass destruction; allow prosecution of people who perpetrate terrorist hoaxes and force them to make financial restitution; allow creation of watch lists for passengers on ships; and upgrade security features of pilot licenses.

So, what to make of this legislative behemoth? Clearly, streamlining the nation’s intelligence agencies should lead to better coordination and teamwork within the intelligence community – competences that were clearly lacking in the September 10th world. However, this will not occur overnight. The intelligence community is awash in bureaucracies and bureaucrats, all of whom have self-preservation in mind. In addition, we know that bureaucratic inertia reacts in the same way as physical inertia, in that a great deal of force is required to change direction. Thus, while the new DNI will clearly have his work cut out for him, our nation’s intelligence reform does appear to be headed in the right direction.

The same can be said for those sections of the law that deal with homeland security, although the law appears to be heavily weighted toward air-travel concerns. (Far be it from us to suggest that this is because members of Congress fly so much.) Arguably, focusing on the September 11th hijackers’ weapon of choice is myopic. While we must certainly shore up airline security to prevent another such attack, we need to always expect the unexpected. Indeed, there are innumerable other targets for terrorists, nearly all of them softer than a commercial airliner. A liquid-natural-gas ship exploding in Boston Harbor, for instance, is not a pleasant thought, much less the detonation of a fissile, biological, or chemical device in proximity to a major urban center in the heartland.

As for the law’s handling of immigration, much is left to be desired. Increasing border guards and developing border-protection technology will be a waste of time and resources so long as our leaders lack the political courage to treat illegal aliens as illegal aliens. That means no public benefits, no drivers’ licenses, no access to U.S. colleges (with in-state tuition at that!), no, no, no, no. The only “right” illegal aliens are to be accorded is that of immediate deportation, and to its credit, the new legislation does expedite this process.

The new legislation’s impact on civil law is mixed, with good ideas as well as areas of concern. Criminalizing possession of WMD and terrorism hoaxes are no-brainers, and we’re led to wonder whether it was acceptable to stockpile WMD in this country before last month. But standardizing state records, such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates, infringes on state authority, while allowing states to license illegals is unconscionable. Additionally, loosening of grand-jury secrecy rules also justifies concern, as doing so could easily be abused. To be sure, we support the primacy of national-security interests, but the parameters for using grand-jury information must be clearly delineated from the beginning.

Two final concerns with this legislation merit mention. The first is that any intelligence produced will be only as good as the people who produce it. Our intelligence agencies must therefore be able to clean house as necessary. Significantly, we believe this is the strategy the Bush administration has chosen to pursue – increasing the size of the defense and intelligence establishments through contract employers who, unlike their federally employed counterparts, can disappear overnight if they’re ineffective, inefficient or unneeded. Likewise, our national leaders, whom we entrust with decisions pertaining to our security, must be willing and able to make difficult, and sometimes incorrect, decisions with the best intelligence available – and the nation must be prepared for that eventuality.

Our last concern is that we must not allow this type of legislation to lull us into national complacency. It’s all too easy to assume that because laws have been passed, problems have been solved. There are plenty of sensible immigration laws on the books, for example – yet their utter lack of enforcement has rendered them pointless. As a nation at war, we must be forever vigilant against all enemies, foreign and domestic, if our dream of Liberty is to flourish.

(Editor’s Note: This essay was prepared, in part, by our research associates.)

Quote of the week…

“We have seen our vulnerability – and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny – prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder – violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom. We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. … Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world. All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. … The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” –President George W. Bush, Inauguration Day 2005, an “American Revolutionary” as Time magazine noted when naming President Bush its 2004 “Person of the Year.”