The Necessity of Establishing a New Domestic Intelligence Agency
In response to a call for a new Domestic Intelligence Agency, the FBI National Press Office released a statement in 2006 that indicated the strides the Bureau had made in "becoming" an "intelligence-driven organization" since 9/11.
The letter's intent was to show the illogicality of those wishing to "tear apart the Bureau" in order to "start a new agency." As Assistant Director of the FBI, John Miller asked, "How long would it take this new agency to get rolling? A year? Two? What would it use for a database? How would it address privacy and civil liberties? How long would it take the officers of this new agency to develop trusting relationships with America's 18,000 local law enforcement agencies?"
Miller's questions were both pertinent and revealing of precisely what a successful Domestic Intelligence Agency would require. Even the RAND Corporation in 2008, asked by Congress to list the pros and cons of erecting a new agency, analyzed the benefits of transforming a portion of an existing agency, like the FBI, into a new Intel-based agency.
Yet, if Miller is correct, then FBI director Robert Mueller had already begun such a transformation: "The Bureau's director, Robert Mueller, has made a priority of merging our longtime strength of being a premier investigative agency with the new goal of being an intelligence-led agency."
Under Mueller's supervision, Miller argued, the FBI was already well on its way to becoming not just a new Domestic Intelligence Agency but the new Domestic Intelligence Agency -- with, of course, the power to arrest. The question, however, remained: did such reshaping solve the question of whether the U.S. needed a separate domestic intelligence agency?
The press release expressed one side of the debate over whether the U.S. should develop a new domestic intelligence agency -- but only one side, and there is in fact another. The debate is mainly centered on whether the U.S. should have an agency comparable to the UK's MI5 or the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO). Each is an intelligence-based organization which relies on a separate enforcement agency to make arrests. So while the FBI may have been making headway in achieving its transformative goal, the issue remained far from settled -- for one very important reason, as RAND points out: "Even a very reshaped FBI would still…lack the clarity of a single mission."
The implication made by RAND is that a domestic intelligence agency that does not focus solely on intelligence-gathering in the post-9/11 world is not really an intelligence agency.
This paper will examine the various reports published by RAND in 2008 and 2009. The focus of RAND's study is two-fold: whether a new agency could best be created by pooling intelligence from the agencies already in existence like the FBI and DHS; or whether an existing agency could establish an organization within itself that would be dedicated to intelligence-gathering -- an "agency within an agency" essentially.
Both options, according to RAND, have their pros and their cons. However, as Samaan and Verneuil assert, a clearly defined "spirit of mission" is at the heart of every successful organization.
Thus, this paper will argue that in spite of the FBI's reshaping directive, the establishment of a new independent Domestic Intelligence Agency is a better option. The U.S. ought to have its own MI5.
Defining a "Domestic Intelligence Problem"
The nature of the domestic intelligence problem is such that it cannot be solved simply by "transforming" one arm of the intelligence community. On the contrary, an entirely new organization with a clear, single purpose is necessary in providing domestic intelligence for the sake of national security. Such is evident for the following reasons:
First, RAND notes that regardless of its claims of being intelligence-led, the FBI is nonetheless "dominated by a law-enforcement and case-based approach."
This point is worth emphasizing. Congress's 9/11 inquiry revealed various shortcomings within the FBI -- shortcomings which stemmed from its failure to have a single "spirit of mission." A number of roles are assumed by FBI agents involved in diffuse cases, as its "What We Investigate" webpage insists: "The very heart of FBI operations lies in our investigations -- which serve, as our mission states, 'to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats and to enforce the criminal laws of the United States.'"
Defending against foreign and domestic threats as well as enforcing domestic laws is a broad objective. In the face of Congress's findings, the FBI, as Miller notes, has attempted to reform itself, streamlining its image in order to give the impression that it is capable of becoming the intelligence-led Bureau of Miller's press release. Yet, because of the "ill advised marriage of intelligence collection-analysis-estimates with covert action," the role of the FBI is simply too diverse to concentrate whole-heartedly on information-gathering.
Its objectives are multiple and dynamic. Its nature, even after reshaping, will still be antithetical to that of an agency dedicated solely to intelligence.
Second, the domestic intelligence problem is rooted in the fact that current agencies do not effectively exchange intelligence. Neither the FBI nor the CIA has a strong record of communicating with the other. This lack of exchange leads to insularism, isolation and suspicion. What might be useful intelligence is kept from one arm of the intelligence community due to a belief in protecting "resources."
When sources become commodities that agencies compete to have and to protect, the goal of information-gathering and analysis can hardly be effectively achieved as "sharing" is not promoted. So while ideally sources would be used according to "special procedures"
developed and maintained by an independent intelligence agency, according to current models they are used as each agency sees fit.
Third, because of the nature of the intelligence community in the U.S., information is collected in such a way that much of it is often "poor-quality and unverified" as a result of a lack of coordination on the part of intelligence-gatherers.
Intelligence that goes unanalyzed or unfiltered is essentially useless intelligence. The methods of gathering intelligence in the U.S. are, in one sense, so wasteful and negligent that it might well be argued that, since the U.S. has no independent domestic intelligence agency, the country really lacks any intelligence whatsoever. Without specially trained analysts equipped with the skills to gather and examine information in order to see what must be kept, discarded, acted upon, or watched for further development, U.S. intelligence forces are at the mercy of agencies acting on various directives which only might overlap with the "mission" of domestic security. An independent domestic intelligence agency could be responsible for analyzing intelligence -- whereas now "analysis is fragmented and sometimes conflicting" as a result of improper or insufficient training. Furthermore, no "domestic intelligence enterprise" exists through which accumulated information can readily be distributed and analyzed.
These three points outline the nature of the domestic intelligence problem. They expose a gap in the U.S. between comprehensive intelligence-gathering and a unified objective. Individual agencies may perform intelligence operations, but these operations are not part of an overall system in which a clear "spirit of mission" is defined. The role of the various agencies within the intelligence community is so disparate and disjointed in comparison to an agency with a single goal of gathering and analyzing intelligence that the answer in how to solve the problem is virtually self-evident: a new domestic intelligence agency must be created. A new agency designed to answer each of the five problem points aforementioned would satisfy a great need in the U.S. And close the gap between effective intelligence and effective action. As RAND states, "Clarity is the principal reason for considering a separate domestic intelligence agency."
But it is not the only reason.
Assistant Director Miller of the FBI argues that establishing a new agency would take years and that its agents would lack credibility with local law enforcement. The argument is largely irrelevant and only points to the fact that the FBI is already an established agency. It says nothing of the ineffective and inconsistent history of communication that the FBI has with other central agencies. The "loose-knit" structure of the intelligence community has succeeded only in an administrative nightmare.
The same may be said of the ASIO. Its main objective is to "mitigate jihadist-inspired terrorism" and yet it also substantially contributes to the role of providing support for national security.
Here is another case of an intelligence agency performing more than one function -- a potential obstacle in the way of achieving its main objective.
Certainly a new agency would take time to develop -- but insofar as the end-goal is concerned, time is not what is of the essence; rather, an agency with a clear mission and the ability to achieve that mission is of the essence. Moreover, the "time" which Miller argues will be wasted in establishing a new agency is likely to be less than he insinuates.