Shifting powers in the US intelligence community


The creation of the National Security Service (NSS) in June 2005 represented a merger of the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and intelligence directorates of the FBI under one umbrella and one boss, Gary M Bald. He in turn reports to John Negroponte, the newly-created director of national intelligence, which is where the bureaucratic reshuffle gets interesting - because this transformation moves some authority over the FBI from the Department of Justice to the wider intelligence community.

Why was the NSS created?

One might assume the reason for this reorganisation is simply to respond to the overwhelming post 11 September 2001 calls for better information-sharing and co-ordination within the US intelligence community. To an extent, this is true: the creation of the NSS is one of many steps towards improved information-sharing and co-ordination. Other measures, such as the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center, had already combined FBI, Department of Defense and CIA intelligence officials under one all-encompassing department.

But, more than a co-ordinating agency, the NSS was created to satisfy separate objectives, namely to better position the FBI as the main domestic counterterrorism agency in charge of protecting the US and to give the newly-created director of national intelligence some substantial responsibility, particularly over the FBI.

First of all, establishing the NSS brings together internal reforms that help position the FBI as the US's dominant domestic counterterrorism agency. With the counterterrorism, counterintelligence and intelligence directorates all under one roof, the FBI has harnessed the capabilities necessary to protect the US from a future terrorist attack.

However, despite regular claims to the contrary, the reorganisation does not create a US version of the British security services, although it does move the US model somewhat closer to its British counterpart. Indeed, if the US does ever decide to create something like the British security services, it is likely that it will involve removing the NSS from the control of the FBI to make it an independent organisation. However, this is not likely to occur anytime soon.

Historically, the FBI has been the only member of the intelligence community over which the director of central intelligence has had no oversight or input. However, following demands for increased information-sharing and co-ordination within the intelligence community, the situation was bound to change - now the NSS reports to the director of national intelligence.

Bringing the NSS under the auspices of the director of national intelligence is a compromise solution, typical of US politics. Those calling for a British security services model are not getting what they want, while the FBI has had to give up some of its authority. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the director of the FBI, Robert S Mueller, both resisted the creation of the NSS and the delegation of authority away from the FBI.

What we are left with is an FBI that is now a quasi-participant in the intelligence community. Part of the FBI now answers to the director of national intelligence, a fact that serves to integrate the FBI into the wider intelligence community. However, the National Security Service answers to the director of the FBI as well, meaning the NSS essentially has two bosses. Attorney General Gonzales was given 60 days from the creation of the NSS on 29 June 2005 to create an implementation plan for it, but the results of this work are not in the public realm.

The creation of the NSS was closely related to the creation of the post of director of national intelligence. This post was created in response to realisations after the 11 September 2001 attacks that the director of central intelligence had too many responsibilities and not enough authority. However, even before Negroponte took up the post of director of national intelligence in February 2005, it was clear that the responsibilities encompassed by this new position were at best murky.

US intelligence capabilities

In March 2005, the Silbermann-Robb commission met to look into the intelligence capabilities of the US in the realm of weapons of mass destruction. At the request of President George W Bush, this commission also reviewed the wide-reaching Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act passed in December 2004. The Silbermann-Robb commission wanted to clarify the responsibilities of the director of national intelligence, and its recommendations for the creation and placement of the NSS under that role accomplished just that.

The commission made 74 recommendations, 70 of which have been implemented. In addition to the NSS, the commission recommended the creation of the National Counterproliferation Center and 'mission managers' under the director of national intelligence, which were to focus on higher-level targets such as Iran and North Korea. The creation of the NSS was just one of many recommendations aimed at solidifying the position of the director of national intelligence.

Aside from the well-intentioned posturing of the FBI and clarification of the responsibilities of the director of national intelligence, the creation of the NSS is meant to be a clear signal to the FBI that Congress is not happy with its post-11 September 2001 progress. Judge Laurence Silbermann made it clear in the proceedings of the commission that if the FBI did not go along with its recommendations, he would lead efforts to separate counterterrorism and intelligence from the FBI, creating a genuine US version of the British security services. Through the NSS, the director of national intelligence has oversight of FBI operations down to the field office level, with authority not only over operations of the NSS, but also over the FBI's USD3 billion intelligence budget. When the creation of the National Security Service was announced, Mueller said: "I do not see it as a loss of independence at all." However, taking decision-making powers away from the director of the FBI and placing them in the hands of the director of national intelligence is exactly such a loss. Furthermore, while hiring the chief of the NSS is ultimately the decision of the attorney general and the director of the FBI, the director of national intelligence is also allowed input on the decision.

The FBI's loss of authority over domestic counterterrorism responsibilities comes at the same time as the creation of a new position in the CIA - a position that has authority over all foreign human intelligence operations, explicitly including those of the FBI and Department of Defense. This National Clandestine Service was implemented in October 2005. While foreign human intelligence has never been part of the FBI's core mission, the FBI has more than 60 legal attaché offices abroad. The mission of these offices is to stop transnational terrorist and criminal plots before they reach the US and to co-ordinate international investigations with the FBI's foreign counterparts. Human intelligence operations are necessary in accomplishing this mission.

All of these recommendations come in the wake of damning criticism of the FBI's post-11 September 2001 analytical efforts. While the number of analysts within the FBI has increased 37 per cent from 1,023 in 2002 to 1,403 in 2004, 291 analysts resigned during the same period, most of them leaving the FBI altogether. The FBI's new training programme for analysts, which was supposed to help it move away from its ingrained culture of law enforcement, also had to be revamped in 2004. Analysts complained that the work they were given did not require a college education. An investigation into the FBI's analytical efforts, at the request of the attorney general, showed that analysts were made second-class citizens compared to agents and were often made to answer phones, fix equipment and do "demeaning" administrative work.

Undoubtedly, the placement of the NSS under the director of national intelligence is meant to address this problem. The creation of the NSS attempts to answer calls for the FBI to improve its counterterrorism work and become better integrated with the intelligence community. However, there is more to the creation of the NSS: it also serves as a warning shot fired over the bow of the FBI, signalling that it must make further progress or risk losing some of its jurisdiction. Attorney General Gonzales said: "Every law enforcement official within the FBI is going to remain under the supervision and authority of the FBI." However, the creation of the National Security Service is clearly meant to accomplish the opposite.

Chris Philipsen is a freelance writer based in Virginia and specialising in security issues.




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