Loose Canons

Homeland Security Circus

You must have your operators and analysts working as closely together as possible. Unfortunately, the President's plan requires that they be farther apart.

By 6.11.02

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Washington's summer circus has opened early, and is already playing with the President's proposal for a Department of Homeland Security. Hearings will soon begin, and popcorn should be sold in great volume. In Ring One, we'll have Gov. Tom Ridge trying to duck questions from the predictable libs about whether the new department will spend its time eradicating racial profiling at airports. The flower children want to make sure the new agency is politically correct, even if that means it can't do its job. They want us to continue to strip-search every blue-haired grandma before she gets on an aircraft while avoiding any offensive conduct toward Middle Eastern males between the ages of 17 and 40. In Ring Two, you'll see OMB director Mitch Daniels trying to explain to senatorial porkmeister Robert Byrd (D - W.Va.) why the headquarters of the new department shouldn't be located in Morgantown. In Ring Three, unnoticed by the media, the Armed Services and Intelligence committees will be hearing from some people who want to fix the few things that really are wrong with the plan.

The President's plan is trying to deal with a thousand problems at once. We have to change the INS, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, FEMA and the Border Patrol to make sure they are no longer just tax collectors and law enforcement agencies. The nature of these agencies has to be changed, and they have to be grafted onto the national security apparatus. Border security is just an up close and personal version of how we deal with threats that live farther away.

Right now, border security is a dangerous joke. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants come here every year. We only search about 2 percent of the 5 or 6 million truck-sized ship-borne containers that enter American harbors each year. You could put a dozen large nukes in any one of those containers. Since 1996, armed Mexican troops and police, escorting smugglers and illegal aliens, have entered the U.S., and the Border Patrol apparently is under orders to not shoot even when shot at. The INS is still handing out visitor and student visas without any real control over who is coming or where they're going. Can anybody tell me just why we're still letting people in from any of the terrorist nations?

Congress will try to pick the proposal apart and add a pile of pork. The legislation will be veto-proof because it's the President's highest priority. Mr. Bush is going to have to dedicate a chunk of his own time to making sure the nonsense is minimized. Equally important is the stance Mr. Ridge takes when he is called to testify on the legislation. He must say clearly that things like racial profiling will be used if needed. If we need to stop issuing visas to anyone coming from North Korea, Iran, Iraq or, for that matter, Saudi Arabia, that's just fine. Agreeing to political correctness now means defeat later.

We've given Gov. Ridge a hard time -- which he deserved -- for his seemingly unserious color-coded view of terrorism. But Ridge is a good tough guy and his job, up to now, was only ceremonial. Congress needs to get Gov. Ridge going with the authority to fix what's so badly broken. But before Congress does that, there's one really big problem that has to be solved.

When you add bits of intelligence information together, the whole is often greater than the sum of the parts. What's wrong in our intel community is that most of the addition is never done. The intelligence information that now is gathered by the FBI, CIA, NSA and a few other agencies that can't even be named, isn't pooled and centrally analyzed. What A knows is usually kept from B, who may know something that makes the two more valuable together than apart. What we must have is the fusion of intelligence information and analysis in an operational context. We have to establish a central group of experts to analyze and integrate all the information we gather. Their reports would be based on the results of pooling the information and analyses. But they should only report based on the advice, and with in the context of the views of the FBI field agents, the CIA antiterrorist operatives and the Defense Department Special Ops guys. Then, and only then, the results could be boiled down into a series of findings on which the President and others can base their decisions. But the president's proposal doesn't do the job that way.

Under Mr. Bush's plan, the new Homeland Security Department is in charge of analyzing and fusing together all of the intelligence from all of the agencies, and then making policy decisions on what to do with it. Because it provides no role for the operational guys in this process, the plan is fatally defective. You must have your operators and analysts working as closely together as possible. The President's plan requires that they be farther apart, not closer together. Ivory Tower analysts of the new Department will be in no position to analyze the intelligence or decide what should be done with it because they will not be sufficiently immersed in operations.

We do need a consolidated homeland security agency rolling up INS, Customs, Border Patrol, Coast Guard, and FEMA, into one. Even more, we need a Joint Agency Task Force, centralized in the CIA, for all intelligence analysis and dissemination of product to the civilian and military operational agencies. Knock down the legal walls between the CIA and FBI to let them cooperate on domestic and foreign intelligence operations, and join them at the hip with military intelligence like NSA and others. But keep the analysts close to the operators. The Joint Agency Task Force should include intel and operational guys from all three military services, who would have responsibility to work with operational planners, not to give them orders.

Mr. Bush's plan is a generally a good one, but the intelligence fusion and operational concerns have to be done differently to work. We don't need a year of Congressional dithering over it. There's already talk of waiting until the Intelligence Committees finish their investigation to act on Mr. Bush's proposal. It will be September 11 again before that is finished. We can't wait that long.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.