Skip to comments.Bush Aides Consider Bolstering Domestic Spying
Posted on 11/16/2002 11:31:06 AM PST by sarcasm
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is considering ways to bolster domestic intelligence gathering to disrupt terrorist plans in the United States, but brushed aside calls for the creation of a new domestic spy agency as premature, administration officials said on Saturday.
The talks among Bush's senior national security advisers come as the administration prepares to set up a Department of Homeland Security, which would include a division charged with analyzing intelligence gathered by the FBI and other agencies.
``The administration is focused on setting up the information analysis and critical infrastructure protection division of the new Department of Homeland Security, as well as the restructuring of the FBI toward a counterterrorism focus,'' said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security.
But administration and congressional sources said Bush's advisers were considering more sweeping changes to improve counterterrorism spying once the new department is up and running, although they denied a report in the Washington Post that Bush was seriously considering setting up a new domestic intelligence agency modeled after Britain's MI5 spy agency.
A congressional advisory panel headed by former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore has called for a separate National Counter Terrorism Center to consolidate analysis of information on international terrorists and to take over intelligence gathering now done by the FBI.
While creating a domestic intelligence agency raises concerns of infringing on civil liberties, Gilmore said the new agency would operate under tight restraints to ensure ``proper'' intelligence gathering.
In a sign the administration may be interested in the idea, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge recently met with security officials in London about the terrorism-fighting experience of MI5, which has the power to collect and analyze intelligence within Britain while leaving law enforcement to the police.
The Washington Post, which first reported deliberations at the White House over a new domestic spying agency in its Saturday edition, said the proposal reflected widespread concern that the FBI has been unable to transform itself after the Sept. 11 attacks into an intelligence-gathering unit that can prevent terrorist actions in the United States.
But administration officials brushed aside the proposal, at least for the time being.
``We are adding a new agency -- that is the Department of Homeland Security -- to the intelligence community, and of course that leads to discussions of how all these things fit together. But there is nothing moving forward at this time with regards to a 'domestic spying agency,''' an administration official said.
Officials noted that changes were already under way within the FBI.
Earlier this week, Bush asked Congress to free up $49 million for the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, created after the Sept. 11 attacks to keep alleged terrorists and their supporters out of the United States while tracking, prosecuting and deporting those already in the country.
But the administration may have trouble resisting calls for the creation of a domestic spy agency if the FBI drags its feet on reforms.
``There are misgivings about the idea of a new agency, but frankly our commission doesn't seem to see any alternative,'' Gilmore told a House Armed Services subcommittee this week.
``We're either going to create a working, effective, substantial domestic intelligence unit in the FBI or create a new agency,'' Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told the Washington Post.
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