Volume 16 • Issue 25 |November 18 - 24, 2003

Intelligence officials warn of security risks

By Sascha Brodsky

The U.S. intelligence community must improve its performance to prevent another terrorist attack in New York City and around the country, a panel of experts said last week.

“Some progress has been made,” said former C.I.A. officer Mary McCarthy. “But it’s evident from the joint inquiry on 9/11 that there were shortcoming. Primarily our intelligence agencies did not collect the right kind of info, did not analyze, what information we had —are we safer, my answer is I have no idea, don’t know what the parameters of the threat is, threat assessment is still not done.”

McCarthy made her remarks Saturday at a conference at New York University Law School entitled “Are We Safer? Transformations In Security Since 9/11.” The conference came as officials and politicians are debating the most effective way to combat terrorism in the wake of the failure to prevent the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Howard Safir, a former police commissioner of New York City, said the city also needs to beef up its defenses.

“A lot more needs to be done,” Safir added. “We aren’t a lot safer than we were before 9/11.” Safir did not talk about security around police headquarters, which some critics say is too restrictive.

One of the major obstacles to effective intelligence is excessive secrecy, McCarthy said.

“There is a worry about their information being compromised which is quite logical but they also worry about losing their bureaucratic advantage,” she added. “Knowledge is power.”

Adding to the problem, there is a growing number of government officials who have the power to classify information, McCarthy said, including the secretary of agriculture. Some information that was previously public has now been made secret.

Larry Thompson, a former U.S. deputy attorney general, said “I don’t know if we are safer, but I know that we are doing everything we possibly can to protect the American people from future terrorist attacks.”

The defensive position is more difficult than the offensive one in the war against terrorism, Thompson said.

“In order to be successful we are going to have to pitch a no hit game,” he said. “For the bad guy to be successful …he just barely gets through the infield. That’s a daunting task.”

The Department of Justice has been rethinking its role in the war against terror, Thompson said.

“The leaders in the department have had to emphasize to our prosecutors and investigators that there is a new paradigm,…” he added. “We need to move from a culture of after the fact to one of prevention and disruption. We need good old fashioned sustained police work…To unleash, if you will, a regime of initiatives. To stir the pot of those who might be engaged in terrorist activities.”

Since 9/11, the department has been tracking hundreds of suspected terrorists, Thompson said. This has been accomplished new legal authority for “increased human intelligence.”

Information sharing is key, he said.

“The federal government needs to be able to share grand jury information with state and local officials,” said Thompson. “That’s very important.” The Patriot Act, which has been criticized by many civil libertarians, allows F.B.I. officials “to connect the dots better.”

Before 9/11, the punishment for certain terrorist activity was less than some drug activity and racketeering, he said.

The government is also reaching out to the Arab and Muslim-American populations, Thompson said.

“We are cracking down on backlash crimes,” he said.

Thompson defended the Patriot act against critics.

“While we never need to do anything that would be outside our legal framework…I would like to think that our most important liberty is the right to be free from violence,…” he said.

To bolster his point that the government’s actions are effective, he pointed to a surveillance tape of a suspected terrorist who said that said that the law is keeping people from helping terrorists. The tape proves that the terrorists “are aware of what is going on,” he said.

Frank Cilluffo, the associate vice president for homeland security at George Washington University, said that the government should create incentives for businesses to make the nation’s infrastructure more secure.

“Private industry owns 90 percent of the infrastructure in this country,” he added. “This can’t be a ‘thou shalt.’ One issue that must be addressed is building the business case for homeland security. We need to spur incentives. Right now there are disincentives.”

Cilluffo also suggested that more emphasis be placed on training and equipping civilian disaster responders.

“The first responders are usually ordinary citizens,” he said. “We want to make sure they have the tools to get things done.”


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