RAND Examines What U.S. Can Learn About Domestic Intelligence Collection from UK, France, Canada and Australia

For Release

April 7, 2004

The experiences of domestic intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Australia can help guide counterterrorism initiatives in the United States, according to a RAND Corporation report issued today.

The domestic intelligence agencies of the four U.S. allies are solely focused on collecting, analyzing and communicating intelligence about terrorism and other criminal activities. Unlike the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States, the domestic intelligence agencies in the four nations studied have no prosecutorial or law enforcement authority.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the FBI was criticized for failing to prevent the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As a result, subsequent discussions have focused on creating a separate domestic intelligence agency that could concentrate on gathering information, without the added duties of law enforcement and prosecution.

“A key difference between the United States and the four countries we studied is that these countries share a culture of prevention,” said Peter Chalk, lead author of the study. “This mindset in a way helps to drive a lot of resources&mbash;financial and otherwise—to focused intelligence efforts.”

The RAND researchers analyzed the similarities and differences between the United States and the four other countries studied to determine what lessons can be learned to develop an American domestic intelligence bureau.

The report, titled “Confronting the Enemy Within: Security Intelligence, the Police, and Counterterrorism in Four Democracies,” was produced by RAND Public Safety and Justice. It identifies several strengths shared by the four countries:

  • Separate domestic intelligence agencies that are independent from law enforcement and solely concerned with collecting, analyzing and disseminating terrorism intelligence.
  • Institutional structures that coordinate among various levels of government and between law enforcement and intelligence.
  • Active recruitment of terrorist insiders to act as informants to provide invaluable human intelligence.
  • Rigorous systems of checks and balances that provide oversight and accountability.
  • Regular terrorist threat assessments that include both tactical and strategic dimensions.
  • The availability of recruitment channels that are independent of the domestic policing environment.
  • In the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Australia, a close coordination between local police and intelligence officials increases the depth and breadth of national surveillance efforts, making security information more open so that citizens can better understand it.

In addition, ongoing checks and balances have created an environment that allows for independent scrutiny of intelligence activities, which has heightened public trust that these activities are being carried out in as effective, efficient and legitimate a manner as possible, the RAND report finds.

The active recruitment of terrorist insiders to act as informants underscores the importance of human intelligence in infiltrating and disrupting terrorist cells, the study says. This accurate, real-time information can better steer strategy, resource allocation and security measures.

Another important aspect of the security agencies outside the United States that were studied is their emphasis on developing regular tactical and strategic terrorist threat assessments that inform government and private industry counterterrorism strategies, the RAND study says. According to the researchers, these analyses are vital to guiding national planning and using scarce financial, technical and human resources.

Finally, freedom from the parameters of the domestic policing environment allows the four countries studied to recruit personnel from a wider and more diverse pool that would normally be drawn to a law enforcement career.

While the study reveals important strengths shared by the British, French, Canadian and Australian models, it also recognizes several shortfalls that can be used to inform the American experience.

The RAND study says domestic intelligence agencies in he United Kingdom, France, Canada and Australia share these three problems:

  • Occasionally overstepping democratic boundaries and individual rights in pursuit of surveillance and national security efforts.
  • Frequently failing to disseminate—and sometimes refusing to share—terrorism threat information with police, customs, immigration, Coast Guard, transportation, and other law enforcement bureaus and officials that have a role in counterterrorism.
  • Sometimes ignoring operational jurisdictions when conducting joint counterterrorist missions with the police.
  • The report notes that while significant cultural, political and historical differences exist between the United States and the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Australia, all of these countries share important defining characteristics: liberal democratic traditions; a common desire to stem threats to national security and stability; and a recognition that counter-terrorism efforts should be balanced with the protection of civil rights.

RAND carried out the study with independent research and development funds provided by the Department of Defense.

A printed copy of " Confronting “the Enemy Within”: Security Intelligence, the Police, and Counterterrorism in Four Democracies" (ISBN: 0-8330-3513-4) can be ordered from RAND's Distribution Services (order@rand.org or call toll-free in the United States 1-877-584-8642).

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