DAVIS, CALIF. — President Bush wants to create a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security but leave it separate from the FBI and CIA. This truly boggles the mind. If the reason that the Sept. 11 terrorists succeeded is that the FBI and CIA didn't communicate well enough, even though they had the information to foresee and forestall the plan, then how is adding a third separate agency supposed to make things better?
With three different bureaucracies battling for turf and hoarding information, the likelihood of missed connections will skyrocket. Mr. Bush's plan will make it more difficult for US law-enforcement agencies to connect the dots, not easier.
The idea of a Homeland Security Department is a good one and probably long overdue. Federal law-enforcement agencies are a hodge-podge of special-purpose groups developed separately within different departments. Treasury agents pursue certain groups of wrongdoers, while FBI agents chase others. Immigration agents track down their own group of lawbreakers. The Secret Service, charged with protecting the security of the president and other top officials, operates in a wholly separate bureaucracy from the FBI, which gathers information on those individuals most likely to pose such a threat.
What could be more sensible than to place all federal law-enforcement agencies with armed agents and criminal surveillance duties under a single leadership?
The FBI therefore belongs squarely in a Homeland Security Department. With that, if a threat of terrorism were to arise requiring manpower to be shifted away from more routine crime prevention, a single order could be given to provide the needed response. All information on criminal activities in general could be routinely accessible to those charged with preventing acts of terrorism both foreign, like Al Qaeda, and domestic, like the Unabomber or Timothy McVeigh. The Secret Service belongs there, too, so that threats to the president noted by the FBI can be swiftly passed to those in charge of protecting our leaders. Obviously, the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) belongs there also.
The CIA, however, should remain separate. Its field agents are trained and experienced in operating overseas, where the US Constitution doesn't apply and the majority of the people they deal with are not US citizens. Their main task is finding out what is happening in foreign countries that might affect the US. FBI agents, on the other hand, are trained to operate in the US, to cooperate with local law enforcement, and to enforce (and respect) the Constitution. CIA agents, with their established practices, should not be operating in the US and spying on US citizens at home.
Rather, the new Homeland Security Department including the FBI; the Secret Service; the INS; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and other law-enforcement agencies should maintain a CIA liaison office. This office would be charged with obtaining and updating any CIA-gathered information relevant to homeland security. Most specifically, this office would be responsible for making all CIA-gathered information on known terrorists, their location, and activities, available to all agencies in the new Homeland Security Department.
And to facilitate communication in both directions, the CIA would be required to set up its own homeland security liaison office, responsible for promptly answering all queries from and rendering whatever assistance is requested to agencies within homeland security.
A new Homeland Security Department provides an opportunity to reorganize federal law enforcement and consolidate agencies. Yet another new agency separate from the FBI with all the duplication, turf fights and information hoarding that such a division would bring would only make things even worse.
Jack A. Goldstone is a professor of sociology and international relations University of California, Davis, and an expert on international conflict and terrorism.