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Domestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever

Domestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever
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If 9/11 taught us anything, it is that the national security and law enforcement elements of the federal government need to be properly organized and led to effectively defend the United States at home. The 9/11 Commission emphasized this, and so new agencies were created in the wake of that tragedy.

But if the 1/6 Capitol insurrection has taught us anything more, it is that the organizational effort is far from complete, particularly regarding intelligence. Some might argue the assault on the Capitol showed it failed us again. 

Let’s stipulate that intelligence is the best tool we have to fight terrorism, whether abroad or even at home. While over 20 agencies today do some form of domestic     

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 intelligence, there is:

  • No unified assessment of all the threats to domestic national security
  • No harmonized cross-agency mission package
  • No responsible officer to manage and deconflict between operating agencies
  • No way to enhance civil liberties protections and standardize their application
  • No way to provide unified congressional oversight

Hence, disarray.

Former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperDomestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? 140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack MORE conceded as much in a 2016 report. He wrote: the “domestic [intelligence] enterprise is more ad hoc and independent than organized and enterprise-oriented.”

An unorganized, ad hoc approach to domestic security is not good.

Much of this can be improved with a simple fix: Create a Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Domestic Coordination to bring order to this government effort, which a former senior official described as “like grade school soccer…everybody running to the ball … no game plan … no coach.” This is no spymaster; instead, the job would simply be as a manager who can perform the essential bureaucratic tasks needed to bring order to this well-intentioned but disordered effort. 

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A DNI deputy could manage an annual assessment of all domestic national security threats built on information synthesized from the more than 20 entities already at work. No new information collections, just a top-down view of the whole field. Today, the FBI does its own assessment, as do DHS, DEA and some of the other entities, but there is no genuine integration of those efforts and so nobody has the full picture.

Notably, as a result of the January Capitol attack, President BidenJoe BidenMellman: Trump voters cling to 2020 tale FDA authorizes another batch of J&J vaccine Cotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE directed the DNI to lead the first whole-of-government, domestic threat assessment that was recently released. Unfortunately, his charge was limited to domestic violent extremism, while a DNI deputy assessment could survey all threats to domestic national security — not just domestic violent extremism. 

Those other threats are serious and include foreign adversaries’ intense attacks on U.S. institutions; economic espionage and intellectual property theft; international criminal cartels; human and drug trafficking as well as threats to national infrastructure. All of these threats are pretty much now managed in stovepipes throughout the government — that is, separately —without prioritization, much less coordination or integrated oversight.

Creating and empowering this coordinating office would enable a rationalized mission package based on a prioritization of the threats (neither exist now); the appropriate allocation of resources (likewise not done); and coordination and deconfliction between agencies as needed (again, no). And it could deliver to Congress of a “whole pie” of cross-agency activities enabling holistic — rather than piecemeal — oversight by a streamlined Congressional process. This would replace the current reliance upon the dozens of disparate committees and subcommittees, which now each have just a slice of the pie but cannot see the whole and so cannot determine how well it was baked.

This coordinating manager belongs at the Office of National Intelligence because the office of DNI is the only entity — other than the office of the president — that has the legal authority to manage the entire National Intelligence Program. For those who argue that “intelligence,” for which the DNI is in charge, does not include the domestic intelligence now going on, the statute says otherwise. It states the DNI is charged with leading a “unified, coordinated and effective intelligence effort,” with “intelligence” defined as “all intelligence … including information gathered within or outside the United States.” The DNI herself, Avril HainesAvril HainesFBI warns lawmakers of violence from QAnon conspiracy theorists Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Lawrence Livermore report finds Wuhan lab leak theory plausible MORE, in her just-released report on domestic extremism, explained that the office of DNI does indeed have has “as part of [its] mission to lead and support IC integration” regarding this domestic threat. 

While statutory amendments would enhance the DNI’s authority over interagency coordination and integration, budget and even personnel matters, the DNI has enough authority to create such a position and initiate this critical work now. However, a presidential order would clarify that and would be useful to help overcome bureaucratic obstacles and jealousies. And regarding cost, this new office requires no new dollars to get going but merely a redirection of existing resources.

There is an additional, critical value this office can provide, which cannot be overemphasized: It can be empowered to set and oversee the highest bar of civil liberty standards for the more than 20 agencies already working domestically rather than leaving it to each of them to interpret, apply and then oversee the standards they each determine. Nothing is more important than protecting the constitutional liberties and privacy of the American citizenry, so this benefit is hugely important.

Companion reforms are also needed. State fusion centers are more important than ever and so must be strengthened because they are where federal, state and local intel and law enforcement entities — and more and more the private sector — build relationships and share information (last summer’s response to urban unrest highlights this need).

Also, intel agencies not now within the “Intelligence Community” should be added to it (e.g., TSA, Secret Service) so that they can aid the coordinated effort and also be aided by it.

This style of cross-agency programs — such as enhanced joint duty and training — has long been recommended. And placing budget and oversight authority for the full domestic intelligence enterprise within the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, rather than leaving it spread amongst dozens of congressional committees (most of which lack intelligence expertise), is critical to improving management of the government’s efforts.

The recognition by Biden that the danger from domestic terrorism requires an office of DNI-led, multi-agency domestic threat assessment has opened the door to enacting the reforms that are needed now throughout our domestic national security structures and processes. They will enhance the safety of the nation while strengthening civil liberties protections in the process — nearly 20 years following 9/11 and just weeks after 1/6.

Stephen Shapiro is senior advisor to the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and was a board director at both the Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security.