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Confronting the "Enemy Within"Security Intelligence, the Police, and Counterterrorism in Four Democracies
By Peter Chalk William Rosenau
RAND CORPORATIONCopyright © 2004 RAND
All right reserved.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was widely criticized for failing to prevent the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. More broadly, the bureau, the nation's primary agency for conducting counterterrorist intelligence operations within the United States, was faulted for failing to understand the nature, scope, and virulence of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden's terror network. Critics charged that the FBI, while superbly qualified to investigate terrorist incidents after the fact, was grossly ill equipped to prevent attacks, given its strong law enforcement and prosecutorial culture. According to Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the bureau had a "positive aversion to long-term strategic analysis of the sort routinely expected of intelligence agencies."
Recently, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has undertaken a series of reforms intended to bolster the agency's counterterrorism capabilities. These include a major restructuring of the bureau's headquarters, the introduction of more advanced information and communication technology, and the creation of a new career track for intelligence analysts. Combatingterrorism rather than fighting "ordinary" crime has become the FBI's paramount mission, according to Mueller.
However, these measures have not silenced calls for a more dramatic restructuring of the country's counterterrorism machinery. Specifically, debate has centered on the advisability of creating a new domestic intelligence service outside the existing structure of the FBI. Proponents argue that establishing an agency that is solely concerned with information gathering, analysis, assessment, and dissemination (i.e., one that has no law enforcement role) would decisively ameliorate the type of hybrid reactive-proactive mission that so often confounds police-based intelligence units. Opponents counter that such an agency would undermine civil liberties, unduly hinder interagency communication and coordination, and create additional barriers between intelligence and law enforcement. While a policy consensus has yet to emerge, the question over whether the United States needs its own domestic security intelligence service has received added prominence with the release of Congress's joint inquiry into the events surrounding 9/11, which sharply criticized the FBI's failure to prevent the 2001 attacks.
Understanding the experience of close allied countries that have developed dedicated domestic surveillance agencies can help inform this debate. Toward that end, this report considers the origin, development, and functions of selected non-U.S. intelligence organizations, assessing their role in terrorism threat mitigation, their relationship with law enforcement agencies, and the means and modalities by which they are controlled and monitored. These organizations are sometimes referred to as "security intelligence" agencies, a term that highlights their preventive function as well as the close working relationship between intelligence organizations and the police. In these countries, intelligence is collected not simply to inform policymakers but rather is viewed as a weapon that law enforcement agencies, private industry, and public officials can use to thwart imminent and latent terrorist attacks.
The remainder of this report is divided into six chapters. Chapters Two through Five explore the makeup of security intelligence structures in four allied countries-the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and Australia. These case studies are neither meant to be comprehensive nor intended to serve as prescriptions for U.S. policy. Rather, they are intended to offer a broad overview that in each instance considers the following salient attributes: (1) the terrorist threat, (2) the security intelligence organization, (3) the relationship between that service and the police, and (4) parliamentary oversight and accountability. These features, which have been variously emphasized in the general context of arguments for and against the creation of a separate American domestic intelligence agency, are summarized in Table 1.1, which for purposes of comparison includes the United States.
Chapter Six draws on the qualitative analysis presented in Chapters Two through Five to derive a set of observables that might have relevance to the specific U.S. setting. Taken in their proper context, the lessons extrapolated from the four case studies provide a relevant framework of principles that can be used to inform U.S. decisionmakers as they consider how best to arrange the nature and direction of the country's future counterterrorist security intelligence and police apparatus. Chapter Seven offers some conclusions, and the Appendix details a recent legislative amendment to Australia's ASIO Act.
Chapter TwoSecurity Intelligence in the United Kingdom
The Terrorist Threat
For much of the past 100 years, Irish terrorists have posed the most significant internal security threat to the United Kingdom. During the "Troubles" (1969-1996), more than 3,600 people died in terrorism-related violence connected to the Protestant-Catholic sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. Although splinter organizations like the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) continue to operate-indeed, this group carried out one of the deadliest terrorist attacks ever perpetrated in the United Kingdom in Omagh in August 1998-Irish paramilitary organizations no longer pose the gravest threat. Today, British authorities consider international extremist groups linked to al Qaeda to be the country's major terrorist challenge. As has been the case with other West European countries, the United Kingdom has served as an important fund-raising and recruiting ground for Osama bin Laden's jihadist network, as well as a theater of operations for militant Islamic cells. While a host of other foreign terrorist groups operate on British soil as well-including violent extremists from Sri Lanka, India, Turkey, and the Middle East-most of them use the country to fund-raise and recruit, but few, if any, appear to be planning attacks within the United Kingdom itself.
The Security Service ("MI5")
The United Kingdom has three national intelligence and security services, known collectively as the "Agencies":
The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, or "MI6"), the nation's external intelligence agency, uses human and technical sources and liaisons with foreign security services to produce secret intelligence on political, military, and economic issues. SIS is overseen by the foreign secretary.
The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), also under the foreign secretary's purview, intercepts and decodes communications and other signals that are used to create signals intelligence, or SIGINT. GCHQ also advises government departments, the armed forces, and private industry on communications security.
MI5, the country's internal intelligence service, is responsible for gathering information on and assessing "covertly organized [domestic] threats to the nation," such as terrorism, espionage, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Security Service is under the authority of the home secretary.
Founded in 1909 in response to widespread official and popular concern about the rise of imperial German power, the Security Service spent the next eight decades rooting out spies, monitoring subversive challenges to parliamentary democracy, and vetting personnel for sensitive government jobs. Counterterrorism was another MI5 responsibility, which became increasingly important during the upsurge in terrorism at home and abroad during the early 1970s.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Security Service, the police, the military, and MI6 all claimed a share of the anti-PIRA campaign, with the attendant effect that their respective roles, missions, and functions frequently conflicted, overlapped, and blurred. On the British mainland, the police were responsible for all intelligence operations against Irish Republican terrorism, working through the Special Branch (SB) of the Metropolitan Police Service. However, a series of high-profile terrorist incidents in London in the early 1990s, including a mortar attack on Number 10 Downing Street, prompted the British government in 1992 to give the Security Service lead responsibility for all intelligence gathering related to Irish extremism. With the end of the Cold War and the presumably less urgent requirement to monitor Eastern bloc spies and subversives, additional resources have been freed up for the counterterrorist mission (which was further helped, at least partially, by surveillance and target-penetration skills acquired during decades of communist spy hunting).
In addition to monitoring Irish terrorists, MI5 tracks and assesses other terrorists deemed a threat to British national security. Monitoring other violent threats, such as neo-Nazis, animal-rights extremists, and doomsday cults, is an SB responsibility. Over the past few years, however, attention has increasingly shifted to transnational Islamic terrorist organizations, which, as noted above, now form the crux of the service's work.
From 2001 to 2002, 57 percent of MI5 costs were allocated to counterterrorism, with the remainder going to counterespionage (14.4 percent), counterproliferation (2.8 percent), "emerging threats" (0.3 percent), protective security (11.0 percent), serious crime (11.5 percent), and "external assistance" (3.0 percent). In pursuing its domestic security mandate, MI5 employs 2,000 people and emphasizes a broad range of information-gathering techniques that span the ambit of eavesdropping/wiretapping, electronic surveillance, and, especially, human intelligence, or HUMINT. As described in a Security Service pamphlet, these techniques are intended to
gain the advantage over the targets of our investigations ... which we can use to counter their activities. Over time, we try to obtain detailed knowledge about target organisations, their key personalities, infrastructure, plans and capabilities.
MI5's analyses contribute to a stream of information that flows into the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), the British government's "main instrument for advising on priorities for intelligence gathering and for assessing its results." Part of the Cabinet Office and composed of senior officials from the Agencies, the JIC provides ministers and other high-level officials with "regular intelligence assessments on a range of issues of immediate and long-term importance to national interests," including terrorism. The service, through the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) and in conjunction with SIS and GCHQ, also develops more-specific terrorist threat assessments that are distributed to "customers," such as the Ministry of Defence or UK diplomatic missions abroad. This machinery works relatively smoothly, a function of the fact that intelligence officials, with the exception of those personnel at GCHQ's main facility in Cheltenham, work relatively near each other in Whitehall, are all bound by a culture of secrecy (backed up by the Official Secrets Act), and, until relatively recently, were recruited from similar educational and social backgrounds.
On matters of protective security-that is, the defense of critical national infrastructure-the service reports to the Cabinet Office's Official Committee on Security, which develops and coordinates government policy. In contrast to the United States, British policymakers have long viewed the protection of domestic economic assets as a key responsibility of the state. MI5 has identified roughly 400 key infrastructure targets within the United Kingdom, defined as those whose destruction would cause major damage to the country's economy. Thus, the agency functions as a link between the state and key commercial and industrial enterprises, providing expert advice and training to corporate security officers and others responsible for defending critical infrastructure.
In addition to the above areas, the Security Service assists British law enforcement agencies as part of a national strategy to defeat serious crime. In these cases, MI5 mostly works through the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), which serves as the main interface between the intelligence community and police criminal investigation departments. Over the past decade, the Security Service has become much more involved in this aspect of the criminal justice system, most publicly by providing evidence at trials involving terrorist and serious criminal offenses.
MI5 and the Police
Although MI5 is mandated to conduct surveillance operations, it has no independent arrest powers of its own. The service is thus obliged to work closely with the United Kingdom's local police forces-and in particular with each of their SBs, which serve as a "vital link between the high-level demands of national security and the local knowledge and access afforded through [local law enforcement]." Indeed, SBs have been described as an "executive partner" of the Security Service that provides a "major extension [to MI5] in terms of intelligence collection capability." Like the Security Service, SBs have counterespionage, counterproliferation, and countersubversive functions, although, again in common with MI5, counterterrorism is their most important mission. Even though every SB has a critical role to play in terrorist threat mitigation (see below), it is the Metropolitan Police Department's Special Branch (MPSB) that forms the primary point of contact with MI5. Founded as the Special Irish Branch in 1883 in response to "Fenian" extremism, MPSB has over the years developed a wealth of expertise in counterterrorism operations and now represents the fundamental "oil" between the police and intelligence communities, especially in regard to the dissemination of classified information to the "cop on the beat."
The SB structure is the primary instrument through which intelligence is translated into operational activity and prosecutions. In their most important national role, MPSB and the 43 provincial SBs in England and Wales provide national "operational support to the Security Service for which local knowledge and access are vital." This street-level affinity ensures that each SB forms an integral component in the general process of identifying and targeting covert human intelligence sources, who are then managed by an SB unilaterally or together with MI5. Local SBs also translate assessments produced by the Security Service into more-focused analyses that can then be used to facilitate directed investigations at the provincial or municipal level.
MI5 Oversight and Accountability
For much of its existence, the Security Service received little outside scrutiny, and, during the 1980s, the agency mounted vigorous countersubversion operations against what Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously termed the "enemy within." Targets included Arthur Scargill, the left-wing leader of the national coal miners union who was alleged to have received financial assistance from Libya, and heavily politicized pressure groups, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the National Council for Civil Liberties. Such operations against legal and generally harmless left-wing activities badly damaged the service's reputation. As one British politician observed in 1988, "since the war, MI5 has been one of the worst and most ridiculed security services in the western alliance." Widespread public criticism, together with civil actions brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), ultimately led to a number of significant reforms. Notable in this regard were the following:
the Security Service Act of 1989, which codified MI5's rules, missions, and functions and placed the service under the home secretary's authority
the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) of 2000 and the Intelligence Services Act (ISA) of 1994, which brought procedures for intercepting communications and eavesdropping in line with the European Convention on Human Rights
Excerpted from Confronting the "Enemy Within" by Peter Chalk William Rosenau Copyright © 2004 by RAND. Excerpted by permission.
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