Day By Day

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Richard Posner on Domestic Intelligence

Richard Posner, a really smart guy, argues that the US needs a domestic spy agency, much like the British MI-5.

He makes the salient point thus:

The British understand that a criminal-investigation culture and an intelligence culture don't mix. A crime occurs at a definite time and place, enabling a focused investigation likely to culminate in an arrest and conviction. Intelligence seeks to identify enemies and their plans before any crime occurs. It searches for terrorist sleeper cells in the U.S. with no assurance of finding any. Hunting needles in a haystack is uncongenial work for FBI special agents. And so at the same time that the attorney general was testifying before Congress that the National Security Agency's intercepting some communications of U.S. citizens is essential to national security, leaks from inside the FBI revealed that special agents are disgruntled at having to chase down the leads furnished to them by NSA. FBI special agents--the bureau's only operations officers--want to make arrests, and so they zero in on animal-rights terrorists and ecoterrorists--people known to be committing crimes and therefore relatively easy to nail. These people are criminals and should be prosecuted, but as they do not endanger national security, prosecuting them should not be an intelligence priority.

Read it here.

This is the essential point that Bush’s critics just don’t understand. They approach security and intelligence from a law-enforcement perspective and don’t realize the limitations of that course. But then, most of them see the war as a mere political inconvenience, maybe even something cooked up by Karl Rove, not as something that justifies wartime measures.

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