US may set up MI5-style spy agency in security shake-up
By Toby Harnden
America is contemplating a radical overall of the FBI and the creation of a domestic spying organisation modelled on Britain's MI5, according to US intelligence sources.
Tom Ridge, President George W Bush's director of homeland security, will hold talks in London next week focusing on the British experience of combating the IRA over more than three decades.
He is due to meet Eliza Manningham-Buller, director of MI5, and Sir Richard Dearlove, the MI6 chief, known as "C", as well as David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, and senior police officers at Scotland Yard. Officials from the Senate Intelligence Committee have already flown to London for talks with British security officials.
"We have just generically taken a look at and will be looking at your domestic intelligence operation, your MI5. The FBI is the counterpart here. There are some practical lessons learned," Mr Ridge said in an interview.
"We'll take a look at your anti-terrorism legislation - what you can and cannot do in relationship to people you suspect of terrorism. It's really a matter of a fairly systematic review of how you go about addressing the problem."
Following the intelligence slips that failed to raise the alarm before the September 11 attacks, deep misgivings have grown in Washington about the FBI and CIA's ability to prevent future terrorist outrages.
Senior Bush administration officials believe that the FBI's focus on law enforcement to the detriment of domestic intelligence-gathering has been a fatal flaw in America's defences against terrorism.
They also cite the FBI's poor relations with the CIA, which is responsible for foreign intelligence work, and the inability of the two organisations to co-ordinate their efforts so that domestic threats presented by foreign terrorist groups can be properly assessed.
Mr Ridge, who is facing a tough battle to get Congress to steer through a Bill that would create a massive new Homeland Security Department, would not be drawn on the details of what America could draw from British dealings with terrorists, but he said they would "take a look at how you deal with it from the intelligence-gathering side and intervention side".
Some US officials believe that the FBI's "police" culture is so entrenched that it cannot be transformed into an effective intelligence agency. One of the options Mr Ridge will be looking at is creating a new domestic spying agency on the lines of MI5.
Although the public focus in Anglo-US relations since September 11 has been on the strong bond between Tony Blair and Mr Bush, behind the scenes there has been growing intelligence co-operation and a recognition within Washington that Britain and Israel are world leaders in this field.
Mr Ridge is also expected to look at detailed aspects of British intelligence activities against the IRA, including the recruitment of informers and undercover agents, and the use of bugs and surveillance cameras.
Asked whether he thought America would be hit again, he replied: "I have always thought that, given the openness of this country, the diversity, the welcoming nature, there would be another attack."
This story is from the Daily Telegraph (London):