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Testifying on Domestic Intel

Former DDI Gannon provides testimony to Congress about domestic intel issues. An important recommendation:

[…] if the FBI is to remain the agency of choice in developing a domestic intelligence capability, it will need much stronger and clearer direction and much closer oversight from the Executive and Legislative branches on the much bigger and faster structural steps it needs to take. The urgent objective must be to develop an intelligence capability that is not subordinated to the Bureau’s criminal investigation mission and that is based on a level of collaboration-including with non-government experts–unprecedented in FBI history. I will not say that it cannot be done, but the evidence to date suggests otherwise.

I don’t know that I concur with is second suggestion:

… to give the lead on domestic intelligence to a resuscitated and revitalized Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the resources and authorities that the Homeland Security Act of 2002 intended-but were never provided. That Act, I believe, rightly recognized that the domestic intelligence mission requires a new collaborative model, not just new rules for old games among legacy agencies. […]

He goes on to argue against creating a new agency that would become our own version of MI5, apparently based on the concern that it would become a secret police. I’m not sure why, since MI5 has been around for almost a century and still isn’t a secret police, but I’ll concede that people have concerns.

I would agree that a new domestic intelligence service (read: new agency poaching people and money) is a bad idea for a number of reasons. The first and foremost reason is that we don’t need a bigger IC. I could go on and on about TSA and DNI, but those expired horses need no further flogging.

Were it in my hands, I would not create a “new” service; merely spin off the FBI’s intelligence capabilities into a separate agency or operating activity under the DOJ (for a myriad of both legal and political reasons). The FBI is never going to be about intelligence and we should stop pretending otherwise. This is not an indictment; it is just the nature of the beast.

To tout the DHS “collaborative” model is to me misleading. They are a coordinating body because there is no such thing as “DHS intel” just as there are no “homeland security agents.” Even so, based on public and private accounts, there is no reason to cheer. Collaboration means new tools, processes, policy and ways of thinking; not a kludge posing as an intelligent hub.

I don’t normally advocate for the bureaucracy, but in this case having a single experienced intelligence entity run the domestic intel show is important because it brings order to the current chaos. Recent stories about cops playing spy against hippies and grannies are perfect examples. It isn’t that Detective Duty Bound is trying to be evil; he just doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. Placing responsibility for training, standards, mission, tasking, assessments, etc. under one roof means that you’ll have a lot more meaningful intelligence work being carried out, and a lot less surveillance of model rocketeers. By all means we should be leveraging the existing capabilities and networks of state and local authorities, but to get things up and running requires adult leadership and experience born from doing the job, not being in the Jack Bauer fan club.

This spin-off, by the way, would require moving 99% of the workforce out of the Hoover Building, sprinkling a handful of liaisons to the Pentagon, CIA, DIA and NSA, and sending the rest to regional centers around the country. The expertise has to be disseminated, the networked approach has to be mandated, and the people on the job have to re-orient themselves to the real people they are serving, not thinking about playing DC games.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.