Sunday, May 07, 2006

Big Brother or Big Asset: Assessment of the Growing Intelligence Community in the United States

US News & World Report printed an article this week called Spies Among Us, a report on increasing surveillance in the US of ordinary citizens. And while the goal of the article is obviously to portray George Bush’s US government as invasive and much worse, it also serves to portray one area where the Bush government has been excellent – the creation of an intelligence network that can begin to address the growing threat of terrorism.

I know, I know, pick up your jaws I am indeed complementing President George W. Bush.  But in this case he deserves some praise.  The task at hand is monumental, and what’s more, there is no clear path to answering this threat, with even the best strategists only able to provide broad outlines of a plan, with no hope that their designs will effectively fight terror.  

But using a level of foresight I consider missing in many of this administration’s plans, Bush has moved forward on these broad outlines of a plan, and created the infrastructure for an intelligence network that can make US citizens much safer. And while many bloggers, including myself, speak of the atrocious legacy being left by Dubya, perhaps we also need to consider this issue and include it in his legacy, and give him some props.

The Threat and Chess

Many people have fallen into the trap of believing that the radical Muslims, who represent the largest threat of terror in the US, are unintelligent or not advanced in their methods of thinking. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  People in the Middle East are highly intelligent on all sides of the coin; it’s just that some Middle East citizens have different values than the West.

What’s more, most of the people I know from the Middle East are very strong in military strategy. Chess is a common pastime, and most of my games in the region were extremely difficult, as many of the players have a strong pen chance for attacking with multiple pieces from multiple directions at the same time. These same characteristics are evident in terrorism.

But as I would play certain people multiple times, I discovered another tactic that also presents itself in terrorism: constantly changing strategies.  Yes, the players were always aggressive, but rarely did they use the same openings in multiple games, reactions to similar situations would change from game to game, and their point of attack changed as well.  The same is true in the terrorism Israel faces, and is also true of the terrorism we fight today.

Fighting Terror

So how do you fight a threat that continuously changes its point of attack, its method of entry, and its target? You need the coordination of many intelligence agencies, and the sharing of data between these agencies allowing analysts to find patterns and prevent attacks before they occur.

In Israel, it’s all about that level of cooperation and communication. Police officers and military on the street are the eyes and ears of the intelligence community.  Over time they have learned what to look for, what is significant to terrorism, and what doesn’t merit consideration. These players report the information in, and analysts process it and distribute it for other information analysts who are looking for events that might fit together.

This must be the goal in the United States, though it’s much more complex in a country this large than in a country the size of Israel. How do you accomplish that here? With so many people, cities, government agencies, and so many law enforcement officials, how do you distribute information without invading people’s privacy? This is much tougher when you don’t know where terrorists will attack, or how.

3-Step Process

Well, to me it seems like it would be a 3-step process. The first step would be to build a massive intelligence infrastructure that could be accessed by law enforcement personnel but would be as secure as possible, which is certainly an issue today. The second step would be educating the law enforcement people on what to look for, and data that’s useful and what is intrusive and meaningless.  You finish with fine tuning the oversights that monitor this new intelligence community and protects our right to privacy.  

I agree with the article that there have been times already where the agency has overstepped its bounds, and I hate to see violations of our freedoms. And certainly specific guidelines of areas that need to be investigated, and prohibition of intrusive or non-terrorist related activities, are long overdue.  But these are questions of implementation and perhaps even abuse of power.

But as much as I may believe that Bush may abuse his power with this intelligence community, I must recognize that it provides the best possibility of defending this country against terror attacks, and is in my opinion the best initiative of the Bush administration.

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Posted by Scottage at 11:22 PM / | |