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October 22, 2008

Officials considering new domestic spying agency

The Department of Homeland Security commissioned the RAND corporation to investigate the possibility of creating a new domestic spying agency, ostensibly for the purpose of counter-terrorism.

RAND studied the issue at the request of the Homeland Security Department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Two years ago, Congress directed that office to conduct "an independent study on the feasibility of creating a counterterrorism intelligence agency." The request stemmed from the failure of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials to anticipate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The research institute was not asked to make recommendations or to evaluate the performance of any existing agencies or programs. Instead, RAND was asked to consider whether a new organization could improve current domestic intelligence operations. The concerns it was to examine centered around the perceptions that the FBI is dominated by a law enforcement and case-based approach to terrorism; the FBI and the CIA do not talk to each other; too much poor-quality information is collected, and collection efforts are uncoordinated; analysis is fragmented; and it's difficult to move information across the domestic intelligence enterprise. [GovExec]

As this passage suggests, some people think we need a domestic spy agency that's not so law enforcement oriented. They think this spy agency should be collecting information on Americans without regard to antiquated ideas like probable cause and reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. They think that, instead of a case-based approach that focuses on solving or preventing specific crimes, this domestic spying agency should be keeping tabs on anyone or anything they deem suspicious.

I hope an Obama administration puts an end to such anti-democratic delusions of grandeur at the Department of Homeland Security.


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I hope Obama goes even further than that.

Me too, he should do away with DHS entirely ... unnecessary big gov't.

"...the failure of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials to anticipate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."

What part of "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." do they not understand?


Who are you rooting for in the World Series? :)

I have a friend whose father was a cold warrior/defense intellectual at RAND. His last project before retiring was working out siting strategies for the MX missile system. He was from one of the Baltic republics and had to flee from the Soviets after WW II. (Yes, he does have a slightly Strangelovian accent.) I've met him a few times. He's a nice guy, charming and witty, very smart, cultured in the Old World manner, someone anyone would gladly call a friend. He is however completely convinced that two generations of nuclear brinksmanship were absolutely necessary in every way.

I shudder to think what they're talking about at RAND these days.

New York criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield noted a couple of days ago that the FBI isn't waiting for the new agency to start domestic spying.

Good catch. Thanks, WP.

The Department of Homeland Security should be abolished and FEMA should be restored to a cabinet-level agency (not to mention overhauled to make it actually work again).

We don't need a special agency for domestic security. Let the FBI handle the enforcement of federal laws, FEMA the emergency response, ICE the borders, etc. Obviously, there should be reforms to make sure these agencies actually talk to each other where their missions overlap, but if that's the goal, the last thing we need is a bloated meta-bureaucracy like DHS.

All agreed?

I would agree, however, once these agencies are created, they are near impossible to remove. Take a look at this list of agencies and tell me how many we can remove:

Obviously, there are a lot of vested interests here, but DHS is a very new and very troubled agency. Its finances are fucked, its leadership is in crisis, and its PR hasn't been stellar. Read some of the congressional testimony from high-level DHS bureaucrats about how they don't have enough people to oversee their contracts and can't imagine where these people would come from, even if they had the money to hire them.

The federal bureaucracy can always be reorganized. It's just a question of whether there's the political will to do it. Obama could declare the grand DHS experiment a 8-year failure and regroup.

Take a look at this list of agencies and tell me how many we can remove:

Anyone we put our mind to.

Remember, WE run the government, it doesn't run us.

The DHS mission is a failed concept. It seems mostly to have aggrandized the snooping tax collectors of the customs service by re-branding them as fighters in the War on Terror. It did the same thing to the border patrol and the folks who run the airport metal detectors. It made them more annoying and harder to ignore, but it hasn't made us much more secure against external threats.

I think FEMA should be a mostly-civilian arm of the Department of Defense because the military has a culture of planning and readiness for rare events that FEMA sorely needs. Our military does a fair amount of relief work---during the Indian Ocean tsunami, for example---and if they rotated those commanders through FEMA it might be more ready for the next very bad thing.

FEMA worked just fine under Clinton.

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