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Simmons says changes needed in US intelligence

by Karen A. Grava - February 13, 2006

The approach the United States takes to intelligence must be changed – and not only because of 9/11, according to U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.).

Speaking to a master’s degree class in homeland security leadership and homeland security professionals from state organizations, Simmons said last week that the end of the Cold War, the advent of cell phones, Google, and other “open source” intelligence, as well as 9/11, changed the world forever.

“The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was written during the rotary phone era,” he said. “We have to update the law to deal with current realities.”

But, said Simmons, a 10-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and a former staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the dilemma is to make the changes while preserving the rights of the American public.

“We need to adjust our laws,” he said. “The stakes are pretty high. We need balance between rights and intelligence, and we can’t do it in a partisan way.”

Some of the changes needed do not fit well with the model intelligence agencies have used for years, he said. Some are a problem for private industry, which is worried about risks but has a “huge role to play. They operate the targets.”

Noting that civilian airplanes were used as bombs on 9/11, he said that cooperation is the only way terrorism can be defeated.

“We cannot put a soldier on every bridge,” he said. “We have to figure out where we are vulnerable and develop our capabilities through talking and sharing talent.”

Simmons, a member of the Armed Services, Transportation, and Homeland Security Committees, said the old model was that crimes were reported to local police. If they needed help, the state police were called in. And if the state police needed help, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in. Information was shared only when absolutely necessary.

“That model doesn’t work well any more,” he said. “We have to authorize agencies to work as a team. Information sharing has to be integrated at all levels. It’s not enough to reorganize government; we have to change how people think.”

Intelligence officers often have to rely on information available through the Internet. This “open source information” is readily accessible, can be confirmed through multiple sources, and doesn’t require security clearance.

“It’s not enough to share information after action,” he said. “We have to create systems that allow virtual sharing as events develop. That’s the hardest thing of all. It’s a huge challenge, because it flies in the face of the culture of intelligence.”

Simmons said it is extremely expensive to defend against every threat, and that the challenge to Congress is to help develop ways to defend the country without bankrupting the public and violating civil liberties.

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