- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Regarding the war against terror, last week was action-packed. Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle publicly admonished the Bush administration for its handling of that war. Iraq was receiving too much attention, while Osama bin Laden was presumably still at large. A day later, U.S. intelligence authenticated an audiotape played on Qatar's ubiquitous and annoying al Jazeera network as indeed having been made by bin Laden, confirming he was alive.
Republicans were furious with Mr. Daschle. The White House fiercely defended its record and progress in the war on terror. But the administration also warned the nation that bin Laden's al Qaeda was planning "spectacular" attacks. The national threat level was raised to condition "yellow."
Meanwhile, U.N. weapons inspectors arrived in Baghdad, a tiny first step in possibly disarming Saddam Hussein short of war. As NATO was establishing a new rapid-reaction force partly to aid the war on terror, Congress finally approved the new Homeland Security Department. But it deferred from the legislation what many people believe is the central issue: reorganizing the federal law-enforcement and intelligence agencies to meet the dangers.
If life were a movie, consider this story line. Asked by America for help, the British prime minister, played by the toothiest actor Hollywood can find, summons the head of Britain's Secret Service. He tells her that bin Laden must be quickly brought to justice so the war against Iraq can start. No doubt James Bond would get the task. After two hours of cinegraphic spectacle, bin Laden would receive his due and Bond would land the heroine, in this movie America's national security adviser played by Halle Berry.
Movies are not real life. And knowing how well or how badly the war on terrorism goes still is uncertain. But police chiefs across America have a powerful view. Ask any. They will say, as unanimously as Iraq re-elected Saddam president, that they are little better prepared to combat terror then they were on September 11. The reason is an absence of cooperation, coordination and information on the part of federal intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.
So, what to do?
When any administration or federal agency is under fire, denial is a usual reaction. They naturally see themselves as good people doing the best they can and plead that if something "ain't broke, why fix it?" That was how Ronald Reagan's Pentagon acted in the early 1980s.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Department of Defense was harshly chastised for alleged incompetence from "bungled" operations such as the failed Desert One raid in 1980 to rescue American hostages in Tehran to buying coffee pots at $10,000 a pop and $600 toilet seats.
It was almost over then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's dead body that Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols defense reorganization act in 1986. Today, that act is generally regarded as having helped the Department of Defense, although, as with any controversial reforms, there are other views.
If the United States is to win the fight against terror, two actions are vital. First, a penetrating and objective review must be conducted to determine how that war is going. This means understanding why and how September 11 happened. Second, based on those findings and recommendations, as Goldwater-Nichols did for defense, law-enforcement and intelligence capabilities must be revamped accordingly. That will require legislation.
Here, Britain provides a useful model. Britain's MI6 conducts foreign intelligence, MI5 domestic intelligence and Scotland Yard counters crime. While the differences between our countries are vast a prime minister with a 200-seat majority in Parliament can be a virtual benign despot this general division of intelligence and law-enforcement labor fits.
As argued in "Unfinished Business," the CIA and FBI should be reorganized around the three roles of domestic intelligence, foreign intelligence including covert operations and traditional law-enforcement functions. If a super-intelligence agency is not created, then these functions would be assigned among the principal Cabinet offices with the CIA retaining principal responsibility for covert operations.
Congress would also be wise to adjust its committee structure accordingly, something also missing from the debate over homeland security. And there must be sufficient legal and political oversight. This gets back to Bond.
In today's world, countering non-state threats such as bin Laden needs highly skilled agents with the intellectual and operational skills to track down these enemies and the authority to take appropriate action. This runs counter to our culture, law and certainly to the structure of our security organizations.
But unless and until we are prepared to make a serious assessment of the dangers and vulnerabilities, and then look at a range of solutions no matter how controversial, we will never be safe again. Not even 20 Bonds can change that reality even if they existed.

Copyright © 2018 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