The heightened threat of domestic
terrorism has sparked a new debate about whether the United States needs a new
domestic intelligence agency.
The failure of U.S. intelligence to detect the impending attack on Pearl
Harbor in 1941 is cited as the key reason for the post World War II creation
of the Central Intelligence Agency. Now, another intelligence failure, 60 years
later, has ignited a new debate over the possible creation of a new domestic
Former congressman Lee Hamilton is vice chairman of the independent commission
investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
"In December we will examine reforms by the FBI and whether we need a new
agency to gather intelligence in the United States, what some have called an
American version of Britain's MI5," he said.
MI5 is purely a domestic British intelligence agency. Most countries around
the world have, to varying degrees, a similar kind of domestic intelligence
agency, be it an interior ministry or security service. But the United States
is different. Here the primary responsibility for domestic intelligence currently
rests with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI. The CIA is forbidden
by law to operate in the United States.
Arthur Hulnick, a political science professor at Boston University and a
28-year veteran of the CIA, says domestic intelligence agencies are usually
separate from the police.
"In most countries where they have an MI5, a domestic security service, they
are not police," he said. "They are intelligence people whose job is to gather
information and analyze it and, then, if they see a problem, turn to the police
Mr. Hulnick says the FBI is trying to remake itself to respond to the terrorist
"What the FBI is trying to do is go from being a police organization to being
able to do intelligence gathering and analysis in the same way," he said.
But the FBI is first and foremost a law enforcement agency. John MacGaffin,
former associate deputy director of operations of the CIA, says the FBI as
it is currently constituted is ill-equipped to handle domestic intelligence
"The FBI, perhaps in the past with regard to the Communist Party of the United
States and other domestic problems, was involved in intelligence gathering," he
said. "But I do not believe that in any effective way, efficient way, satisfactory
way, that the FBI is in the intelligence gathering business now. That is indeed
Mr. MacGaffin who, after his long career as a top CIA spymaster, was a consultant
to the FBI, says there are what might be called "cultural differences" between
intelligence agencies and police organizations. Intelligence agents try to
discover information in order to stop a potential act or plot. The FBI, Mr.
MacGaffin says, looks to catch people who have committed crimes, such as kidnapping,
auto theft, and bank robbery.
"The FBI's glorious work was related to reactive things, get the baby back,
get the car back, get the bank back. The crime had been done," he said. "That
reactive approach is no good in today's world. We don't want someone to catch
the people who let Sarin gas loose in the New York subway. We have to have
a proactive approach, and that is domestic intelligence."
Few analysts expect a duplication of MI5, which enjoys vast powers in Britain,
in the United States. But they add that sentiment for some kind of new agency
in the United States can be expected to grow,if the FBI is not able to come
to grips with the ever-greater demands for domestic intelligence.