Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are not synonymous

With the ongoing threat of ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks, active shooter incidents and non-financially motivated cyber-attacks; there has been increased public discussion about how law enforcement and intelligence keeps tabs on suspected threats. 

While similar public and political discourse led to an end to the NSA’s metadata collection program, it would be important to clarify the difference between the roles of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and their capabilities in today’s overlapping war on terrorism.

A major problem when addressing this issue lies in the fact that Americans have been fed a steady diet of television and movie plots centered on CIA operations on American soil. These fictional stories, such as the Showtime cable drama “Homeland,” are so pervasive that most Americans are totally unaware that the CIA has no charter to operate on American soil. 

The side effect of this fictionalization of real agencies and threats is that most Americans fail to realize that the work of our foreign intelligence agencies is quite different than the work of law enforcement.

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After 9/11, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 12333, which was amended in 2008. This order was to respond to a lesson learned from the 9/11 attacks; that intelligence should not be “stove-piped” by individual agencies but should be shared responsibly within the Intelligence Community.

 

Thus, Executive Order 12333 ushered in an era where intelligence information was to be shared between the Intelligence Community and law enforcement, in order to allow agencies to determine whether that information is relevant to their mission. 

So while the intelligence collected is shared with law enforcement, it is important to recognize that the foreign intelligence community does not have the same mission in gathering or preserving evidence necessary to prevent and investigate crimes.

The Intelligence community is in the business of gathering information for a 360-view on our national security. This means that in human intelligence (HUMINT) we recruit sources who can provide us with the secrets of others; to include terrorist organizations, international crime rings and foreign governments. 

In order to accomplish this effectively, we have to get into business with people who do not hold the same values or respect the same laws as we do in America as they operate in foreign countries among those we need information from to keep us safe. In signals intelligence (SIGINT), we infiltrate technical measures to gather intelligence on threats against us.

In the age of ISIS recruiting at-risk American citizens online; threat of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of unstable leaders in North Korea and/or Iran; and cyber-attacks threatening critical infrastructure like power, water, and transportation; ponder what risks we would face if we held the intelligence community to the same moral and evidentiary guidelines as our domestic law enforcement agencies are held?

Also of note, Intelligence Analysts are not intelligence officers (spies). Intelligence analysts exist in the intelligence, law enforcement and even business communities; to analyze information gathered through a variety of means ranging from google searches to secret reports from federal agencies.

For people on American soil, the same legal protections for individual privacy exists regardless of whether evidence implicating them in a crime came from the intelligence community or law enforcement.

Even during the metadata collection program, there was no greater access to signals intelligence information for law enforcement purposes than there is today. The data was there for when an official law enforcement investigation (such as the San Bernardino terrorist attack) was opened, so that agencies like the FBI could connect the dots once a suspect was identified.

The difficult task at hand is for American citizens to face the reality that there are not spies and FBI agents everywhere. That was the ugly reality faced by East Germans during the cold war, as well as North Koreans and Cubans now; and not how a free society operates.

If we want to better address our safety against the threat of ever-changing terrorist tactics like vehicular assaults, active shooter, and public venue attacks; we need to better improve the private security oversight of the spaces that we control.

Therefore, if your workplace has no chief security officer or plans for evacuation, shelter-in-place, access control and/or active shooter incidents; it is up to you to express your concerns to human resources and management.

There are a myriad of professionals in the public and private sector, the author included, who specialize in providing plans and services to organizations; if they’re willing to accept their responsibility to the safety of their employees and visitors. In most cases, they haven’t because Americans feel that the intelligence community is among them, and that there are an unlimited amount of law enforcement resources out there to prevent the next attack. The belief of that fallacy puts us all at risk.

A. Benjamin Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety. He serves as Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for infrastructure protection and sits on academic advisory boards at St. John’s University and Philadelphia’s Peirce College.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.