Break Up the CIA (V)? No, the FBI!

I thank commenter Craig for discovering that my review of the 9/11 Commission’s report, to be published tomorrow in the New York Times Book Review section, is now online. The review was written before Senator Roberts’ proposal to break up the CIA, but offers several reasons for thinking that the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks, if it was indeed a culpable failure rather than an inevitable one, was primarily a managerial rather than a structural failure.

Issues of government organization are baffling. Where you have a boundary, you have a turf war; and if you erase the boundary, you lose diversity and competition, and with it the power of intelligent control. If only one person reports to you, you’re pretty much at his mercy; he’ll tell you just as much as he wants to.

I suggest in my review (despite my general skepticism about structural solutions) carving the domestic intelligence function out of the FBI and creating a stand-alone domestic intelligence agency, similar to England’s MI5; and I point out that MI5 and MI6 (England’s counterpart to the CIA) work well together because they’re both intelligence agencies. The FBI doesn’t work well with the CIA, because the FBI is not an intelligence agency, but a criminal investigation agency, in other words a plainclothes police department.

MI5 has no power of arrest; the power to arrest terrorists is lodged in the Special Branch of Scotland Yard, Scotland Yard being England’s counterpart to the FBI. Presumably MI5 has some of the same problems of coordinating with the Special Branch as the CIA does in coordinating with the FBI; in both cases, you have an intelligence agency working with a criminal investigation agency. But I think–though could well be wrong–that a section of the FBI that was, like the Special Branch of Scotland Yard, specialized to arresting and otherwise assisting in the criminal prosecution of terrorists would make a better fit with a domestic intelligence agency modeled on MI5 than the current counteterrorism branch of the FBI makes with the rest of the FBI. Because the dominant culture of the FBI is and probably always will be that of criminal investigating, intelligence officers lodged in the FBI will always seem odd men out; a person wanting a career in intelligence will not be attracted to working for a police deparment. But it is quite otherwise with someone wanting a career in the criminal investigation and prosecution of terrorists, a perfectly respectable and exciting field of police work. Such a unit in the FBI could holds its head high, and would at the same time have strong incentives to cooperate with a domestic intelligence agency.

Or so one can hope.

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7 Responses to Break Up the CIA (V)? No, the FBI!

  1. Anonymous says:

    Why do we have a CIA that can only do intellegence gathering outside the USA. Why cant they act like Central Intel. Leave FBI to being the “plainclothes” cops. The CIA would then have responsibility for all intellegence gathering (like merging of MI5 and MI6 together).

    you would still have a problem, whereby a coordination center would need to be established where informationc ould flow freel in both directions (CIA FBI) so one and the other could learn from each other, and take action upon information received.

  2. Mojo says:

    I agree with you that the pre-9/11 (and pre-Iraq for that matter) intelligence failures were not primarily due to structural problems. But I think your solution doesn’t really fix anything. It’s just kicking the problem of intelligence community coordination with law enforcement one step down the chain. Beyond that, I think an MI5-like organization would make other problems (coordination, oversight, etc.) worse. Plus, I’ve never been much impressed with MI5’s record anyway. Philby wasn’t French, for God’s sake!

  3. Maureen says:

    “Why do we have a CIA that can only do intellegence gathering outside the USA”

    Because there are certain Constitutional limits on gathering intelligence within the United States, and the CIA has operated without these Constitutional limits when working on foreign soil. They don’t have a culture that’s used to working within the Constitution. The FBI, on the other hand, has a culture that’s constitutionally constrained (at least since the death of J. Edgar Hoover) but doesn’t have a culture that’s based on the collection and analysis of intelligence. Ergo, we need an agency that is specifically assigned to gather intelligence within the United States and within Constitutional boundaries.

  4. v says:

    If an intelligence agency is involved in collecting all intelligence, both internal and external, it becomes dangerously powerful. As it is intelligence reform is an extremely difficult matter because the executive has to ensure that it retains complete control over the agencies, otherwise they are prone to get ideas (Church committee …etc). This is a reason why in every democratic country, internal intelligence gathering is separate from gathering intelligence outside the country’s shores.

    The separation of intelligence gathering and criminal law enforcement also exists in other countries like India. I think it is a good idea to separate the two, not just because of reasons of work culture, but also because it ensures better control and oversight over the functioning of the organizations.

  5. Tim Fong says:

    Actually the CIA is forbidden from doing domestic intelligency by the National Security Act of 1947. That is the precise legal reason why it cannot run intelligence operations on US soil.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Have you read Herb Meyer’s article on the CIA [and why it is not working now, when it did before] from Imprimis? It is great! Imprimis is available free from Hillsdale College in Michigan.

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