Adding more fuel to critics decrying the administration's centralization of power, President Bush proposes a cabinet-level domestic security office.
[ … ]
The FBI and the CIA would not be replaced by the new agency, but some of their operations would be given over to it. The agency would reportedly envelop the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Program, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Secret Service.
Fleischer called it the biggest government restructuring plan since the creation of the CIA in 1947.
Civil liberty and privacy watchdog groups were grim upon hearing the news, which was only the latest bit of government security tightening to occur in the last couple weeks.
Last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft scrapped the guidelines that govern the FBI's conduct, allowing the bureau to monitor websites, public gatherings and religious institutions that aren't under criminal investigation.
On Wednesday, Ashcroft said the government would photograph and fingerprint up to 100,000 foreigners entering the country from Arab and Muslim countries.
“I think we've reached the point in the debate where we need to ask larger questions about where this administration is taking the U.S. government,” said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He added that “someone needs to apply the brakes” or the United States will become a “police state.”
Jerry Berman, executive director of the Center for Democracy & Technology, said that not only were these moves potentially censorial, but they would ironically make it more difficult to protect the homeland.
“When the government collects monumental amounts of information, it may not be able to find anything it needs,” Berman said. “The problem they had (before Sept. 11) wasn't in finding information, it was in analyzing information, and if they have more information they'll have more analytic problems.”
Berman allowed that the new agency could improve analysis, but he said it wasn't obvious that it would. “The public is saying 'please do what is necessary' — and the government is saying 'take off the shackles.' But I really believe that in 90 percent of the cases, they're saying 'let's blame the law rather than the fact that we had a massive intelligence failure.' What the public needs is a better FBI,” not fundamental changes in government, Berman said.
Several experts have noted that intelligence centrality of the sort proposed by Bush was the main goal of the creation of the CIA — an agency now best known for not letting the FBI know before Sept. 11 that two members of al Qaida had entered the United States. Those men, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. [Privacy Digest]