Special Report

Federal Bureau of Counter-Investigation

The FBI must reorganize its counter-terrorist activity -- but how?

By 8.15.05

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The current state of U.S. counter-terrorist organization is a crazy quilt of separate, unequal, and overlapping capabilities and authority.

The best potential access to information on terrorist cells in any community is through local law enforcement's grassroots contacts and knowledge. The problem is that while the local access exists, the necessary funds, trained and experienced personnel, and broader operational direction do not.

The FBI has the budget and the ability to provide operational direction, but often does not have the same degree of ground level knowledge or adequately sized regional staff. Experienced intelligence operations personnel are in short supply throughout all domestic security systems. The CIA, meanwhile, still husbands its human intelligence and assets along classical compartmented lines.

New York City has arrived at its answer for these problems by creating its own counter-terrorism activity within the New York Police Department, handling both intelligence gathering and analysis. Aided in part by funds provided through federal grants, the NYPD now has an autarchic instrument focused solely on investigating and counteracting terrorist operations. Furthermore, the NYPD now maintains its own foreign liaison. Much to its consternation, the FBI has been held at arms length from this city-run intelligence activity and, as a result, cooperative efforts in counter-terrorism operations in New York are at a virtual standstill.

President Bush has rushed to order the reformation of the FBI Counter Intelligence and Counter Terrorism structure into an autonomous entity within the FBI, but with a dual line of command and control reporting to the new Director of National Intelligence as well as the Director of the FBI. This would place the new organism within the direct budgetary control of the DNI. From the FBI standpoint this is a recipe for confusion and failure.

The answer some have thought is to create a new totally separate entity dedicated to domestic intelligence gathering similar to the U.K. Security Service, known as MI-5. This instrument has no powers of arrest, but works closely with Britain's various police departments' counter-terrorism units and Special Branch officers.

There are 56 law enforcement jurisdictions in the U.K., a far cry from the 13,000-plus in the U.S. This difference alone tends to rule against any simple transference of the MI-5 concept to the current counter-intelligence/counter-terrorism operations of the FBI. The suggestion has been made (vigorously denied by both the White House and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte) that when the new national security service of the FBI is created it will soon metamorphose into a totally new domestic security agency. This would do nothing, however, toward solving the problem of the lack of experienced domestic intelligence officers.

The root of the domestic security problem lies not so much in what organizational form is chosen, but the creation of a cadre of experienced CI/CT professionals who will be supervised by people of similar operational background. This latter is key.

The FBI's management structure winnows out at an early stage those Special Agents who wish to follow a supervisory track from those who eschew administration positions to remain field agents actively involved in operations. The managers have chosen a desk-bound life in exchange for authority rather than the relative greater freedom and excitement of day-to-day operations with little chance of command.

This separation of a supervisory career from an operational career is a historic part of the FBI structure. Whatever form the new domestic security organization takes it must have a management path built first on operational accomplishment and not bureaucratic inclination.

The arrest powers of a new domestic intelligence service in the U.S. would have to be retained in order to augment local law enforcement. While the initial force could be comprised of the existing members of the planned new national security service of the FBI, it would have to be supplemented by counterintelligence officers currently serving in other U.S. agencies. These would have to be retrained in the legal ramifications of domestic law enforcement.

The operational role that New York City has carved out is unique and inapplicable as a model for other big cities. Eventually an effective federal domestic intelligence arm working cooperatively with local and state law enforcement must be formed. This mechanism could remain within the FBI for logistical support. Whatever happens must happen fast. The terrorists aren't waiting.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.