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.