Intelligence And Law Enforcement: Stewart Baker Gets It Half Right

Instapundit links to a thoughtful article by Stewart Baker about the underlying causes of U.S. pre-September 11 intelligence failures.

Baker is right that there should be more cooperation between intelligence people and law enforcement people, and that increased after-the-fact auditing of law-enforcement activity is probably better than increased a priori regulation.

However, he is only partially correct in his explanation of why the “effort to build information technology tools to find terrorists has stalled.” While it’s true that civil libertarians have hamstrung government efforts to deploy such tools, they have done so mainly for good reasons. Widely discussed information analysis proposals have been badly conceived: mining error-filled credit and financial databases is certain to produce a huge number of false positives, all of which must be evaluated. These proposals also appear to be designed, at least in part, to satisfy various old bureaucratic agendas. (Where have we read this before?)

Civil libertarian skepticism about the government’s anti-terror analysis proposals parallels popular skepticism about airport security. In both of these areas government tends to favor ineffective and intrusive conventional solutions, and LE/intelligence pork barreling, over politically difficult courses of action (air passenger profiling; firing failed FBI and CIA decision makers) that go to the heart of the issue.

While some of the opposition to the TIA program etc. has been overwrought or politically motivated, much opposition appears to originate out of sincere concern about the poor quality of the government’s proposals. I think we are more likely to make progress in this area if the Administration’s backers admit that this is the case, and encourage the government to improve its proposals, rather than continuing to try and deflect blame onto the critics.

2 thoughts on “Intelligence And Law Enforcement: Stewart Baker Gets It Half Right”

  1. My daughter is an FBI agent with some role in the terrorism investigations. She says that the FBI is as bureaucratic as ever. Much buck passing and CYA activity. No change since 9/10/01. It is extremely difficult to get these agencies moving in another direction. The Queen Mary is agile compared to federal agencies like the FBI. Like in war, it is probable that a great deal of wasted effort is necessary to get a modicum of result. The ideology of the administration probably makes about a 5% difference.

  2. I thank your daughter for her service.

    My point was more about accountability than ideology. There was some discussion after 9/11 about how the military commanders who were in charge when Pearl Harbor was attacked were cashiered. Nothing similar was done in our intelligence services after 9/11, and I think that’s unfortunate. Leaders can set the tone in big organizations, and accountability should start at the top. There’s something to be said for firing the leaders on whose watch a disaster was allowed to occur, even if they were not entirely to blame. They are by definition responsible and can, at the least, provide an example of accountability for institutional failure.

    Keeping the leaders while scapegoating subordinates is the opposite of what should be done.

    IMO Bush’s unwillingness to fire people for incompetence (he doesn’t hesitate to fire for disloyalty) is a major weakness in his leadership style.

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