Intelligence: June 17, 2002

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Getting the FBI and CIA to cooperate in collecting and evaluation information will have to overcome a lot of legal and institutional barriers. When the United States established the BOI (Bureau of Investigation, changed to FBI in 1935) in 1908, it was playing catch up with most other nations. European countries, in particular, had long possessed government intelligence organizations. But America had long felt that the intelligence collecting activities of the State Department and the military were sufficient for the country's needs. In many cases they were. But in 1948 it was clear that, with the American form of government, and individual states not willing to actively share intelligence information, a federal organization was needed to at least try and coordinate information gathering. But the FBI never had enough people to properly due this job, and concentrated on the crises of the moment. J Edgar Hoover, who became head of the BOI in 1924, soon proved a very capable, and jealous bureaucrat. Hoover managed to elbow the army and navy intelligence people aside as the FBI took over most spy catching duties. By the time the CIA was established in 1947, the FBI was already running intelligence operations throughout Latin America. Had the CIA not come along, the FBI would have kept going. But the State Department and the military did not want to see Hoover establishing an intelligence at their expense. Nor did Congress and the American people want a "super intelligence agency." The CIA was set up to collect all the intelligence the FBI, State Department and military were collecting, sort it out and report to the president. The CIA was specifically prohibited from operating inside the United States. And when the CIA was caught doing that in the 1960s and 70s, Congress came down hard on them. The major problem with the CIA was that the other intelligence agencies were not as cooperative as they were supposed to be. Everyone danced around this problem until September 11, 2001. But to get the level of cooperation needed will require changing laws (allowing the CIA more leeway in collecting information inside the United States) and habits (real and continuous information sharing among the various agencies.) The problem is not unique to the United States. Britain solved the problem in the 1930s, when they established the JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee). The JIC includes the head of MI5 (the British FBI), MI6 (their CIA) and military intelligence (plus some other senior bureaucrats) and meets regularly to sort out problems. While there are still institutional feuds and other problems, they are more easily sorted out in regular meetings of the top people. The British people have the same nervousness of a growing "secret police" and assaults on their civil liberties. But at the same time the British intelligence agencies do not have as many legal constraints as their American counterparts. For example, MI6 agents do, indeed, have a "license to kill" (at least overseas), and British Army SAS commandos regularly work with British diplomats on overseas problems. MI6 also has a closer relationship to the British Foreign Office than the CIA does to the State Department. Getting the FBI and CIA to work together is not impossible, but it's going to involve a lot of work and overcoming a lot of bureaucrats set in their ways.

 


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