The independent commission studying the Sept. 11 terror attacks is considering recommending changes in US intelligence that would go well beyond actions of the George W. Bush administration, including the creation of a domestic spy agency modeled after Britain's MI5.
James Steinberg, deputy national security adviser in the administration of former president Bill Clinton, said he advocates the creation of two new entities: an independent director of national intelligence and a domestic security service like MI5.
Steinberg was expected to testify yesterday at a public hearing for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
In an interview on the eve of his testimony, Steinberg said US counterterror efforts remain hampered by decades-old walls separating the work of the FBI, which operates domestically and traditionally has focused on catching people who break laws, and the CIA, which works abroad and focuses on learning secrets.
"The beauty of the MI5 model is it breaks down both those walls," said Steinberg, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.
MI5 describes itself as Britain's defensive security intelligence agency. It cannot detain or arrest its targets but seeks to "to gain the advantage over [them] by covertly obtaining information about them, which we can use to counter their activities.''
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge visited MI5 headquarters during a trip to Britain last year. He later said he doubted the Bush administration would create a similar domestic intelligence agency, because MI5's powers would be unacceptable under the US Constitution.
FBI Director Robert Mueller also opposes the idea of an American MI5, saying such a proposal is based on "a faulty understanding of counterterrorism that sees a dichotomy between `intelligence operations' and `law enforcement operations.'"
The 10-member, bipartisan commission has until May 27 to submit a report that will also deal with law enforcement, diplomacy, immigration, commercial aviation and the flow of assets to terror organizations.
Commission chairman Thomas Kean said the panel is considering several ideas to make US intelligence more effective, "including whether the United States should establish a Director of National Intelligence."
A joint House-Senate inquiry after the Sept. 11 attacks concluded that serious failings by US intelligence leaders left the country vulnerable.
The Bush administration has acted to strengthen intelligence gathering and sharing since the 2001 attacks. It created a Terrorist Threat Integration Center to bring together information gathered by the CIA, FBI and other agencies.
Also, the FBI, under new powers granted by the USA Patriot Act, "is now dedicated to preventing future attacks" instead of just investigating past crimes, Bush said in a September speech at the FBI Academy.
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