September 2, 2004
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. and Edwin Meese III
Many federal lawmakers are locked in tight re-election battles
this year. But as they return from recess, they're facing a task
that can't wait -- revamping
our nation's intelligence system, a near-Byzantine assortment
of foreign and domestic operations, divided among 15 agencies and
But while reform is overdue, Congress must avoid a rush to
failure. The chance to fundamentally restructure our national
security apparatus comes along rarely. Once done, the energy needed
to push reform dissipates. Flaws can go uncorrected for
That's why we should judge the success of Congress' effort not
by how fast the committees can get a bill to the floor, but by how
well members think through the reforms they deliver. Here are some
ways to measure true progress:
In fact, a National Intelligence Director with no direct
operational responsibility for intelligence gathering could be a
big plus. America would benefit from an NID who exercised broad
oversight of the intelligence community, established priorities for
the various intelligence agencies and coordinated their
Additionally, we could give the NID tools that would actually
improve protection of our liberties as well as our security. For
starters, we could add an Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties,
which would provide policy guidance for all intelligence agencies
to safeguard those rights. We also could give the NID an inspector
general with authority to investigate any alleged infringement of
civil liberties committed anywhere throughout the intelligence
commission acknowledged as much, calling for creation of a
National Counterterrorism Center under the NID. But while the
Center is a good idea, it shouldn't be placed under the NID's
direct control. That would leave the director overly focused on
fighting the war on terrorism. The NID must be able to track all
the emerging security threats. If it concentrates too heavily on
counterterrorism, the NID may pay too little attention to, say,
hostile states such as North Korea.
Yes, one individual should focus on analyzing and distributing
critical information on terrorism. And Congress has already
designated that person: the Secretary of Homeland Security. The
National Counterterrorism Center should be placed under the
But the NID shouldn't assume direct authority over the
intelligence agencies themselves. A director involved in running
one intelligence agency (or more) wouldn't able to form
independent, unbiased assessments of its activities. It's essential
that the president's top intelligence advisor be able to provide
scrupulously unbiased counsel.
The desire to "do something," and quickly, is understandable.
After all, our very security is at stake. But for that very reason,
we must take the time to do it right.
Edwin Meese, a former U.S. attorney general, is chairman of
the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage
Foundation, where James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow
for defense and homeland security.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire
While reform is overdue, Congress must avoid a rush to failure. The chance to fundamentally restructure our national security apparatus comes along rarely.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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Edwin Meese III
Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus
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