Counter-terrorism at the FBI, or how to dry your hair with a bicycle

Since we need an agency for domestic counter-terrorism, let’s build one for the purpose, not ask the FBI to do a job that doesn’t fit its culture.

Amy knows much more about intelligence and terrorism than I do, and her list of birthday gifts for the FBI is a sensible one, within limits. But the best present for the Bureau, the present that would really make the recipient better-off, would be relief from the counter-terror assignment, an assignment which is simply a lousy fit for the agency’s organizational culture.

Think about it this way: If someone asked you how to fashion a hair-dryer out of a bicycle, you could do it, with a little ingenuity.

* Attach playing-cards to the spokes of the front wheel with clothespins.

* Build a frame to convert the bike into a stationary bike.

* Have the person with wet hair stand next to the front wheel while someone else gets on the bike and pedals madly.

* Then the breeze created by the playing-cards will dry the hair: very, very slowly.

Or you could go out and buy a hairdryer, which would (1) dry hair more effectively; (2) not require the presence of a cyclist; and (3) free up the bike for use as transportation or for sport.

Amy’s post attempts to answer the question “What’s the best way to do a prevention-oriented, intelligence-intensive, foreign-culture-intensive job with a technologically backward, culturally insular organization devoted to making prosecutable cases about violations of Federal law?” And it’s not a bad answer to that question, as posed. But surely the right answer to that question must be “By using some other organization.” It’s a classic case of “If I were going there, I sure wouldn’t start from here.”

If we need an MI-5 &#8212 an counter-intelligence agency that also provides domestic security against foreign threats &#8212 let’s build one for the purpose, rather than trying to do the job “the FBI way,” which in this context will inevitably be the wrong way.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: