Intelligence question

Thomas R. Temin

The Homeland Security Department had no sooner launched a terror threat warning in early August than news outlets such as National Public Radio trotted out this and that expert, criticizing the department. Either DHS was a) crying wolf or b) giving the terrorists too much insight into our national response to threats.

One pundit said DHS was squandering its credibility with these repeated warnings. In the same breath, he said the department was merely trying to cover its backside, should something bad actually happen. In my book, that's damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Along those no-win lines, the Washington Post quoted 9/11 Commission member Lee H. Hamilton at a hearing: 'In dealing with counterterrorism, you must get away from this division of foreign intelligence is over here and domestic intelligence is over here and never the twain shall meet. That's a prescription for disaster, we think.'

Yet that was precisely the goal cited for FBI and CIA intelligence work in the 1970s after investigations headed by then-Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) made sensational revelations about CIA activities in the United States and abroad. CIA intelligence gathering was leashed, and a more robust wall erected to limit data sharing among agencies. In many ways, 9/11 was the result of that demarcation, that wall.

Now, the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies are at least talking, comparing notes if not merging databases and systems. Such systems integration might never take place, but under carefully crafted policy and law, it wouldn't be necessary to integrate them.

If a metadata table tells me you could have something I need, then I might need a court order to look at it under the law. But if we are cooperating generally in a framework of shared mission, that is an obstacle a free society of laws can live with. Balkanized data gathering, and internecine rivalry and mistrust'those will yield us more 9/11s.

The commission's report has been released, a month of hearings have been held. Now it is time for the Hill to show some leadership and rational policy-making.


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