News & Events


Terrorist Attack Will Prompt Overdue Changes in Intelligence Gathering

Fred HitzA loosening of domestic wiretap restrictions, a willingness to employ spies with "dirty hands," and even a reconsideration of America's longstanding ban on political assassinations are likely consequences of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to Fred Hitz, former Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Hitz, who is teaching a course on intelligence law at the law school, told a crowd at Caplin Pavilion September 20 that the attack has created a "clear shift in sentiment in the land, long overdue, to deal with terrorism."

Likely changes in the way counter-terrorism efforts are carried out include "enhanced FBI wiretap powers, more intrusive ones," he said, in cases where terrorist or foreign intelligence threats are suspected. Rule changes may make it no longer be necessary for the FBI to get permission from the attorney general or from a special court that currently reviews such requests.

Hitz said that the policy of not hiring academics, clerics or journalists to also serve as spies "doesn't make any sense." British intelligence services, the prototype for America's, have never had such a policy he noted, citing the notorious double agent Kim Philby, who worked as a journalist, as a conspicuous example. Foreigners already commonly suspect that American professors and journalists in their countries are in fact linked to the CIA, he said. "I'm talking about removing a negative. There shouldn't be a prohibition at the executive level against hiring academics."

Likewise it is naïve to think that America can penetrate a terrorist network without using agents who may ultimately be guilty of crimes. "The first requirement [someone trying to join a terrorist cell faces] is to prove his bona fides by committing a terrorist act," Hitz pointed out. "It's not possible to restrict ourselves to agents who don't have blood on their hands."

Such hires should require a higher-level of approval than a field officer, he said, but risk-averse administrations have used the restriction as "an excuse not to go forward" after abuses surfaced in Guatemala.

Reversing the ban on political assassinations, whether the U.S. is directly or indirectly involved, is too risky for Hitz to agree to. "The practical problem is that if we engage in it, such as to get Saddam Hussein or someone like Hitler, who governs it and what keeps it from becoming tit-for-tat and the terrorist attacking our leaders?" Assassination was not a feature of the Cold War, he noted, "because each side could see that if you go down that road, where does it end?"

He nonetheless agreed with a point raised by professor John Norton Moore that in the case of an armed attack against the U.S. -- war -- in which the U.S is acting in defense of itself that the attacker is a lawful target. Moore cited the U.S.'s targeting of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto in World War II as a precedent.

Hitz also agreed with a point raised by professor Paul Stephan that counter-terrorism efforts should be given a new "institutional home" in the government. Hitz assessed cooperation between the CIA and FBI as "much better than it was, but it will take a generation of CIA officers working themselves into law enforcement mode to become comfortable with what FBI officers face every day.

"In the past, law enforcement has had to burn an [intelligence] asset in every instance where it wants to prosecute," he said, while it is strongly against the culture of the CIA to jeopardize intelligence sources.

All these possible changes raise a larger question, Hitz said: "If we alter the rules of the game, change our constitutional safeguards, are we really giving in to the terrorists? How much of a hitch are we going to have to take in the way we think we live in order to live in this new world? I don't think anybody knows yet."
• Reported by M. Marshall

Law Grounds News Index