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An Inspector General for Counter-Terrorism By: Bill West
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The final report issued by the 9-11 Commission is being hailed as an excellent and thorough review of the causes of and the U.S. Government’s response to the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001.  The report, in a genuine bipartisan way, makes several key recommendations for changes the Federal government should make in the counter-terrorism arena to help insure against a similar, or a worse, attack in the future.  Ironically, having demonstrated how even amidst swirling political controversy, and staffed by Commissioners themselves often attended by no shortage of such controversy, the Commission was able to produce a final product in which the entire Nation can view as genuinely patriotic, professional and sincere, those recommendations did not include the creation of a permanent version of the Commission itself.

The closest thing to it was the recommendation for a National Intelligence Director, an “Intelligence Czar,” that would oversee all the Federal agencies with intelligence functions and supercede the role of even the Director of Central Intelligence of the CIA, and their recommendation for closer Congressional oversight.  These recommendations, along with the others by the Commission, will surely receive serious consideration by the Congress in the near future.  However, what remains unclear is what agency, what high level Government official, would be charged with the responsibility for the sole-purpose, full-time internal review, “watchdog” oversight of the Government’s counter-terrorism efforts.  Something else the Commission proved is desperately needed, if only by doing its job the way it did.

The Commission proved, in spite of the inevitable politics in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, a persistent and professional pursuit of the truth could pay off.  It was a difficult, imperfect and often-painful task, but the Commission and its staff succeeded.  The Commission, essentially, acted as an ad hoc Inspector General for the entire U.S. Government’s counter-terrorism efforts relative to the 9-11 attacks.  It was an independent investigative body seeking the truth of the events and further seeking to make professional recommendations on how to make improvements in a system that had clearly made mistakes.


This leads to the point.  While every Federal cabinet level Department has its own independent Inspector General (IG), responsible only to the head of that Department and to Congress, those IGs operate only within their specific agency.  The war on terror, as the Commission has clearly indicated, needs to move away from a failure of imagination on the part of the good guys.  As with the recommendation for a National Intelligence Director to oversee and control all U.S. intelligence agencies, there should similarly be an agency devoted to full-time internal oversight of all Federal counter-terrorism agencies.  Effectively, this would be a Trans-Agency Inspector General for Counter-Terrorism.  Such an Inspector General, as with all other Federal IGs, would have an independent reporting responsibility to Congress.  This Inspector General might also report operationally to the White House, perhaps the National Security Advisor, and would have both an internal investigative and audit function independent of the individual agencies it would oversee.


Such an organization would allow for an independent investigative body, with a partial reporting responsibility to Congress, and would be a permanent watchdog over the counter-terrorism operations of the Federal government.  The IG would be able to conduct independent audits of agency operations and thereby increase agency proficiency.  Additionally, with its internal investigative powers, a truly independent IG would investigate alleged wrongdoing within counter-terrorism agencies, again, with a reporting responsibility to Congress.


Perhaps Congress should consider the concept of a Trans-Agency Counter-Terrorism Inspector General as it reviews the other recommendations made by the 9-11 Commission in the coming months.         


William West is a retired INS Supervisory Special Agent who worked on counter-terrorism cases; he is now a consultant on counter-terrorism matters and a freelance writer.   

Bill West is a retired INS/ICE Supervisory Special Agent who ran organized crime and national security investigations. He is now a counter-terrorism consultant and freelance writer.

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