Six Years After, America Better Protected

By Matthew Harwood

Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle featured a long op-ed which argued that six years after 9-11, formerly independent law and intelligence agencies have been integrated into a robust counterterrorist force which has made Americans safer despite the constant threat of a jihadist attack.

The authors, Oliver "Buck" Revell and Jeff Kamen, are experts in homeland security. Revell is the former associate executive director of the FBI and Kamen is a senior fellow at the Homeland Security Police Institute of George Washington University.

For them, there has been a sea change in how the United States does counterterrorism. Before 9-11, competition between various law and intelligence agencies and contradictory mandates led to the stovepiping of critical intelligence that may have prevented the worst attack on American soil. But not anymore:

Now it's a single American anti-terrorism team. If you're an agent conducting surveillance of a foreign-speaking terror suspect and you need a translator in real time, you will get the help you need, often immediately. If you're a supervisor at the CIA or FBI, and you are hoping for advancement, you had better get serious time in a joint command, or your career is going nowhere. The CIA and FBI have recruited hundreds of Arabic, Urdu and Farsi speakers.... The Patriot Act and other new laws allow decisive action that simply was not possible before the tragic events of Sept. 11. Officers from different agencies who rarely interacted are now colleagues and friends.

What also impressed the co-authors was the recently released National Intelligence Estimate. The report's criticism of Iraq's government led by Nouri al-Maliki was proof that American intelligence had regained its independence and was no longer tainted by political spin.

Because of this and other acitivites, the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, came in for special praise.

Revell and Kamen also lauded McConnell's role in sheparding the new Protect America Act of 2007 through Congress. The law amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, making it easier for federal authorities to eavesdrop on foreign suspects thought to be planning harm to America.

They also support McConnell's decision to give the Department of Homeland Security access to spy satellites to help track suspected terrorists before an attack is launched. Opposition to McConnell's decision because of civil liberty concerns is unfounded, they argue, because spy satellites, like London's network of CCTV systems, only aim their sights on public streets, which are "fair game" and does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

In conclusion, Revell and Kamen offer four recommendations to better protect the United States.

  • Monitor prison chaplains to stop the recruitment of and radicalization of inmates to the jihadist cause.
  • Get Internet service providers to take down any jihadist Web sites they host.
  • Provide more, better-trained officers for high-risk targets for jihadist terrorism, such as airports and other critical infrastructure installations.
  • Convene a bi-partisan conference on border security at the White House which leads to effective immigration controls.

For more on efforts to strengthen information sharing across the U.S. government, read, "The New 'Need to Know,'" by Assistant Editor Joseph Straw in the September issue of Security Management.

POSTSCRIPT: Separately, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security on September 5, 2007, addressed information sharing with states, localities, and industry. He noted that the agency is "developing three new product lines tailored to meet the intelligence needs of the private sector and state and local governments, including sector-specific documents, unclassified communication with the private sector and quarterly suspicious activity reporting analyses."




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