- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

Most intelligence and law enforcement specialists say they believe that a Department of Homeland Security could be beneficial if it's staffed with the right people, but some oppose it outright.
Oliver B. Ravel of Dallas, who served in the FBI for 30 years until his retirement in 1994, said he called for the creation of a Cabinet-level federal law enforcement agency to deal with terrorism in a book he wrote four years ago. He said he's glad to see it's coming to fruition.
"A lot of this is the product of a congressional process that's out of control in terms of creating entities with conflicting jurisdictions. It's also a product of committee oversight that's out of control," Mr. Ravel said in a telephone interview Thursday from Colorado Springs, where he was vacationing. During his long FBI tenure, he served as an agent, an assistant director and as an associate deputy director.
Mr. Ravel said he's glad to see that agencies such as the Secret Service, Customs and Immigration and Naturalization will be part of the new department. "But they should have taken all the federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the marshals" and put them in the Department of Homeland Security, he said, and "refocused the agencies on border protection and domestic intelligence."
Mr. Ravel said he hopes there is such an "eventual consolidation" of all the law enforcement agencies. "The CIA should be left where it is. But there should be a close, almost seamless relationship between it and the other agencies," he added.
He called the department, as proposed, a "good first step."
But Angelo M. Codevilla, a former Foreign Service officer who served as a senior staffer for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1977 to 1985, says of the proposed Department of Homeland Security: "It's a very, very stupid idea and, ultimately, a dangerous idea.
"It ain't going to help; defense against terrorism is ultimately impossible," said Mr. Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University.
Mr. Codevilla pointed out that Machiavelli once wrote, "It's impossible to protect against someone who is willing to give his own life." He said the situation in the Mideast shows the accuracy of that assertion nearly every day, as Israelis are killed or injured by suicide bombers despite the world's best security.
Racial profiling, he says, might increase the effectiveness of preventive measures by 5 percent to 10 percent, "But the only way to fight terrorism is by offensive measures. Everything else is placebo or whistling past the graveyard," he said.
Intelligence experts interviewed all had reservations about racial profiling. But their concerns focused more on the term than the practice. All said a person's ethnicity or national background has to be a factor in a terrorism investigation, but they stressed it should never be the only factor.
"Certainly, if we used all our resources looking for Swedes [in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks], we would not be making good use of those resources," said George V. Vinson, a former FBI agent who is special adviser on state security to California Gov. Gray Davis and heads a program called the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center.
John Wobensmith, a former National Security Agency official, said: "I see no problem with doing profiling. It makes common sense to me. Seeing little old ladies and children being searched at airports is ridiculous, nuts."
Mr. Ravel, too, voiced concern about searching "little old ladies" at airports. "There has to be focused scrutiny on those most likely to carry out a terrorist attack based on empirical data. The region of the world [a person is from] should be factored into a formula, but it should not be the controlling factor" in determining if someone is a terrorist threat.
As for the Bush administration's proposed Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Vinson said: "It's a very aggressive and good move to strengthen the Office of Homeland Security, which under Gov. Tom Ridge has been very focused and responsive." Mr. Vinson said states have provided ideas for the national strategy being revealed.
Mr. Wobensmith, with the Institute of World Politics, said he, too, believes the department looks promising. "But that will depend on the quality of the people," he said, adding:
"Some good things can come if FEMA gets more involved in homeland security [as it would under the president's plan for the new department]. It's important that we get our domestic-security capability increased. But to do that, we must ensure we have really good people who have experience and background as intelligence analysts and operators."
Mr. Wobensmith said it "takes a lot of long-term background and experience to look at [raw intelligence data] and pull out nuggets and know what to go after."
Mr. Ravel put it this way: "There needs to be a very concerted ability to collect intelligence and analyze it. You need knowledgeable, trained analysts with expertise in the culture, mores and languages" of terrorists.
Harry "Skip" Brandon, a former deputy assistant director of the FBI, said he's "kind of concerned" about the proposed creation of analytical capabilities. He said he understands that the president can't be expected to review raw intelligence data. But he said he's worried there will now be new layers of review and personnel with "different agendas and spins" determining what's important and what's not.
Everyone questioned about the new capabilities stressed the need to ensure that intelligence that's gathered and analyzed be protected against leaks.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide