Holding the Government Accountable

CRS Dodges an Elephant in the Room

The first in a series of Congressional Research Service reports on homeland security intelligence (pdf) was publicly posted by Steven Aftergood on his Secrecy News site today. It contains a general and useful discussion of the structure, statutory basis and issues facing the still-vaguely defined world of homeland security intelligence. What you won't find, however, is an exploration of which government agencies should be responsible for what. In other words, Congress' research branch--CRS--is staying out of the turf wars between the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence over who should have primary responsibility and control over homeland security intelligence-related entities such as the National Counterterrorism Center and over functions such as consolidation of terrorist watch lists. Perhaps CRS will take up this issue as its homeland security intelligence series progresses?

In the report's first footnote:

The question of how the U.S. government should organize to implement an effective homeland security intelligence function, e.g., the appropriate roles and responsibilities, and attendant de-confliction of overlapping jurisdictions, of the FBI and DHS intelligence elements, are beyond the scope of this report.

Clark Kent Ervin, the former and first Inspector General at DHS, wrote in his recent book, Open Target, that:

A key reason--arguable, the key reason--for creating the Department of Homeland Security was to connect the proverbial dots in a timely fashion in the future. With the Department of Homeland Security in place, the next time different government agencies picked up indications of a terrorist plot against the homeland, there would be one government agency with access to everything each relevant agency has and with the mandate and horizon-wide perspective to put it all together into a coherent, actionable whole.

Ervin makes clear in his book that he strongly feels that DHS should have primary responsibility for at least some of the roles which the FBI and CIA have taken over. Perhaps Ervin is right. Perhaps not. It's an understatement to say that DHS is a problem-ridden department, but the FBI and the CIA are not without their share of problems themselves.

So...it seems that this could be an issue for Congress, and its policy research arm, CRS, to look at. Just saying.

Former Senate Select Intelligence Committee counsel and former CIA IG Britt Snider broached the subject in a book as well. Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly Homeland Security wrote the following in September 2005 (unfortunately paid subscription only):

"To make matters worse, from an oversight standpoint, the new [Homeland Security] department for various reasons had a difficult time implementing its responsibilities in the intelligence area," Snider writes in a new book, Transforming U.S. Intelligence (Georgetown University Press). The CIA and the FBI, he says, took important counterterrorism and counterintelligence activities away from the Homeland Security Department, which "blurred even further what the intelligence functions . . . were or were apt to become. This necessarily left open the question of which committee or committees were responsible for oversight."

One majority member of the House Homeland Security Committee, when asked who was overseeing domestic counterterrorism programs, lamented, "I have no idea."

In an email, Ervin responded in elegant succinctness to the CRS footnote, "Ah, dodgeball, a time honored Washington sport." Indeed.