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“Doing our Work Differently, Doing it Better”
Panel Remarks by
A. Denis Clift
Joint Military Intelligence College
June 15, 2005
During the recent election campaign in Great Britain , Prime Minister Tony Blair took a group of British magazine editors on a tour of No. 10 Downing Street. In the state dining room he said, “There’s a portrait of King George. When he was around, we still had America .” 1 Great Britain no longer has America , but the United States thanks to George III has the most remarkable set of checks and balances of any nation, any government in the world.
These checks and balances stand to serve us very well if we are to overturn the assumption that the effective meshing of foreign intelligence with domestic or national intelligence and law enforcement is so complex and so fraught with difficulty that it must be approached with trepidation and hesitant half-steps.
Our new national intelligence leaders are speaking out with vision and the call for action. “My goal, … ” Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte stated in his first message to members of the intelligence community, “is to help you do your jobs better by ensuring that the intelligence community budget is well-spent, the intelligence community is working together as a team – military and civilian, abroad and at home – and our community wide analysis is objective, timely, and relevant to the nation’s needs … Facing a new order of threats to national security, we know we have to do our work differently and do it better…” 2
The new Deputy Director of National Intelligence General Mike Hayden, in his confirmation hearings, said “That American intelligence agencies needed to push ‘right up to that line,’ established under privacy laws, in using eavesdropping, surveillance and other tools to gather information. … he told the committee that it would be vital to ensure ‘that we are not pulling punches, that we are using all the abilities that Congress has given us under the law. We all know [he said] that the enemy may be inside the gates and that Job 1 is to defend the homeland.” 3
As these leaders take office, they understand the challenge that comes in safeguarding individual liberties at the same time they safeguard security. The two are not compatible. A tension is created, and if we are to succeed as a democracy we must maintain that tension.
The DNI and Deputy DNI have available to them the recent history – flowing forward to the present – of citizens and different voices of government – vigorously protesting the increased surveillance authorities given to the government under the Patriot Act at the same time that they are asking why foreign intelligence, homeland security, and domestic law enforcement are not yet working smoothly, seamlessly, and effectively to give assurances that there will be no repeats of September 11.
They have the findings of the 9/11 commission and the WMD Commission. “We do not recommend the creation of a new domestic intelligence agency,” wrote the 9/11 commissioners. 4 While the WMD commissioners advised ”…reevaluate the wisdom of creating a separate agency – and equivalent to the British “MI-5 – dedicated to intelligence collection in the United States should there be continued failure to institute the reforms necessary to transform the FBI into the intelligence organization it must become.” 5 They can weigh the Spy Catcher reminiscences of that old MI-5 hand Peter Wright on various situations, such as entering premises without a warrant or invading an individual’s privacy … MI-5 operated on the basis of the 11th Commandment – ‘Thou shall not get caught.’ They can weigh Wright’s observations on the depth of antipathy between MI-5 and the Secret Intelligence Service MI-6. 6
They have available to them the transcripts and the summaries of the many hearings by the many Senate and House committees and subcommittees probing intelligence and homeland security challenges. They hear the voice of the Secretary of Homeland Security advising the Congress in April 2005 that he is intent on organizing intelligence in his department, intent on establishing his department’s proper relationship with the national intelligence community, and to finding ways to operationalize intelligence, ways to inform and communicate with state, local, tribal entities and private sector partners. 7
These new leaders can look back almost 30 years to the 1976 Church Committee report on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, to gain historical perspective on their present-day challenges: “Americans have rightfully been concerned since before World War II,” that Committee wrote, “about the dangers of hostile foreign agents likely to commit acts of espionage. Similarly, the violent acts of political terrorists can seriously endanger the rights of Americans. Carefully focused intelligence investigations can help prevent such acts. …
[However], the Committee wrote, “Too many people have been spied upon by too many Government agencies and to[o] much information has been collected. The Government has often undertaken the secret surveillance of citizens on the basis of their political beliefs, even when those beliefs posed no threat of violence or illegal acts on behalf of a foreign power. …
“The excesses of the past,” the Committee wrote “do not, however, justify depriving the United States of a clearly defined and effectively controlled domestic intelligence capability. … The Committee’s fundamental conclusion is that intelligence activities have undermined the constitutional rights of citizens and that they have done so primarily because checks and balances designed by the framers of the Constitution to assure accountability have not been applied.” 8
They may weigh the work of present-day scholars, such as Michael Ignatieff writing in his 2004 work The Lesser Evil – Political Ethics in an Age of Terror “When democracies fight terrorism, they are defending the proposition that their political life should be free of violence. But defeating terror,” he writes “requires violence. It may also require coercion, deception, secrecy, and violation of rights. … Rights do not set impassable barriers to government action, but they do require that all rights infringements be tested under adversarial review.” 9
Checks and balances it is! If we are to lay the assumption to rest that effectively fusing foreign and domestic intelligence is too steep a hill to climb, boldness will be required. A review of the currency of the checks and balances mechanisms – executive, legislative, and judiciary – must be a national priority. Here, it is useful to recall the President’s words of last August on intelligence reform. “The 9/11 Commission,” he said, “also made several recommendations about the Congress, itself. I strongly agree with the commission’s recommendation that oversight and intelligence – oversight of intelligence and of the homeland security must be restructured and made more effective. There are too many committees" he said "with overlapping jurisdiction, which wastes time and makes it difficult for meaningful oversight and reform.” 10
In August 2004, the President acted on one of the 9/11 Commission’s important recommendations establishing the National Counterterrorism Center, stating in Section 5(d) of his Executive Order that the Director of the Center shall: “support the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice and other appropriate agencies, in fulfillment of their responsibility to disseminate terrorism information consistent with applicable law, Executive Orders and other Presidential guidance, to State and local government officials and other entities …” 11
This language is of such importance with its 21st century perspective that intelligence is no longer solely a national enterprise trained beyond our borders and serving the highest authorities of the state. National intelligence now must extend its services to the state and local needs of the nation. Whether or not this Center will be truly effective will depend on the boldness with which the new national intelligence leaders lay the old assumption to rest.
If this center is to be effective, it must act on the 9/11 Commission’s call for the exercise of imagination. If it is be effective, it must act on novelist John LeCarre’s observation that “intelligence is the left hand of curiosity, that gathering, analyzing, and using information is a natural part of what we do if we are doing it well.” 12 If we are doing it well, we will be startled by the talents and the contributions to be drawn on from across the nation. If we are doing it well, we will be amazed by the new paradigms for gathering, analyzing and using information.
If we lay this assumption to rest and are doing the business of fusing foreign and domestic intelligence well, we will be embracing and acting on other of LeCarre’s words, these through his character John Landsbury: “The value of intelligence depends upon its breeding. Unless you know the pedigree of the source you cannot evaluate the information. We are not democratic. We close the door on intelligence without parentage.” 13
- “The Masochism Campaign,” David Remnick, The New Yorker, May 2, 2005 , p. 86.
- Message to Members of the United States Intelligence Community from the Director of National Intelligence, April 22, 2005 .
- “No. 2 Intelligence Nominee Testifies on Privacy Rules,” Douglas Jehl, The New York Times, April 15, 2005 , p. 16.
- The 9/11 Commission Report, Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States , W.W. Norton & Company, New York , 2004, p. 423.
- The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction , U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington , D.C. , 2005, p. 468.
- Peter Wright, Spy Catcher, Viking, New York , 1987, pp 31-32.
- Statement of Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Washington , D.C., April 13, 2005 , pp. 4-7.
- “Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans,” Book II, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate, 94 th Congress, 2 nd Session, Report No. 94-755, Washington , D.C. , April 26, 1976 , pp. 1, 5, 20, and 289.
- Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil – Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, Princeton University Press, Princeton , 2004, pp. vii-viii.
- President’s Remarks on Intelligence Reform, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/08/200040802-2.html
- Executive Order National Counterterrorism Center , http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/08/20040827-5.html
- George Plimpton Interview with John LeCarre, CSPAN, 1997.
- John LeCarre, A Murder of Quality, Hill & Company, Boston , 1962, p.15.
This page was last updated January 25, 2013.