- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

When it is eventually created, the Department of Homeland Security will have to employ intelligence to protect America. Never again can we go through the pre-September 11, Keystone Cop tragi-comic performance of our law-enforcement and intelligence agencies having so many pieces of a puzzle without being able to work together to assemble it. The homeland intelligence czar must become the top intelligence officer of the land; he must be the chief coordinator, conduit, and collector of intelligence regarding the safety of Americans at home.
The man who is likely to assume this post is John Gannon. He is a career professional who serves as chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA. He will need every ounce of his experience to deal with the bureaucratic battles he will have to wage in Washington to forge a program that produces actionable intelligence and early warning to protect the country.
The task is Herculean. After the excesses of police-intelligence units during the height of Vietnam War protests, many Americans are rightly suspicious that domestic intelligence collection infringes on vital civil liberties like freedom of speech and the right to petition government. To the left, homeland intelligence raises the spectre of the COINTELPRO operation. On the right, there are reasonable fears that the "jackbooted thugs" of Ruby Ridge and Waco were just the beginning of a draconian federal government. Mr. Gannon will have to work hard to foster trust, while creating a system that respects the Constitution even as it takes vigorous measures to defend it against internal and external enemies whose only purpose in coming to our shores is to destroy freedom. His first role must be that of coordinator. He must join together the information from 22 separate federal agencies, each leery of protecting its own turf. The president and the new secretary of homeland security need "one-stop" shopping to assess the threat level, the credibility of terrorist threats and the actions to be taken in response.
Mr. Gannon's second role is to become the conduit of information to the people who will need it most urgently in a crisis fire departments, police stations, public-safety officials, emergency medical personnel, the so-called first responders who are the earliest to arrive at the scene of a terrorist attack. As September 11 demonstrated, these first responders bear the greatest risk of dying while trying to protect their fellow Americans. They need up-to-date threat information that will enable them to defend and serve their local communities, and they deserve to be able to get it from a single, authoritative source in the federal government. The homeland intelligence czar must fill that void.
Mr. Gannon's most controversial role will be that of collector of information. Civil libertarians will fear the potential abuse of power; bureaucratic rivals will resent intrusions into their turf and seek to reduce the homeland intelligence czar into a mere reader of their reports. The homeland intelligence role requires the ability to task federal and local resources like the FBI and state bureaus of investigation to carry out investigations and acquire information where pieces of the puzzle are missing. This is not the same as a home-grown Gestapo. But the need for a single federal official with the authority to order such collection has become clear, in view of the well-documented failures of the FBI hierarchy to respond appropriately to their New York, Arizona and Minnesota field offices, where special agents requested permission to probe suspicious activities and individuals before the September 11 attacks. Mr. Gannon also needs the power to reach deep into multi-layered bureaucracies like the FBI or the INS, so that he can receive information unfiltered by headquarters staff whose competence has been rightly called into question by recent disclosures circumventing recalcitrant supervisors and managers whenever necessary.
Intelligence sharing has improved since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Back then, CIA restrictions on the dissemination of information in practice meant a 24-hour delay between the time when a cable reporting a terrorist threat arrived at headquarters and when the necessary written authorizations could be obtained to release the information. Intelligence agencies are fiercely protective of their own "sources and methods," usually for legitimate reasons, but also to protect their bureaucratic interests.
This resistance must yield to the realities of the conflict we face. Mr. Gannon must show how flexible intelligence can be in "shading the source" to protect human and technical assets, while still providing the timely flow of information needed to protect the homeland. If intelligence cannot be used to save the lives of ordinary Americans here at home, why do we bother to spend $37 billion a year to collect it?
[Editor's note: This is the third in a series of editorials addressing needed reforms within the intelligence community.]

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