File:MI5 Model for the US.pdf

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A report to the US Congress - Order Code RL31920

19 May 2003

Domestic Intelligence in the United Kingdom

Applicability of the MI5 Model to the United States

By Todd Masse. Specialist in Domestic Intelligence and Counter-terrorism Domestic Social Policy Division


Intelligence failures frequently lead to calls for reforms in the United States Intelligence Community to remedy what are real or perceived functional, procedural, regulatory, systemic, and/or structural problems. While it can be debated whether the events of September 11, 2001 represent a tactical or strategic failure, it has been widely cited as a prima facie intelligence failure. One potential remedy that has been suggested in response to the events of September 11, 2001 is the establishment of a domestic intelligence agency akin to the British Security Service, also known as MI5. Some analysts maintain that because the British have had more experience with terrorism on their own soil and have a democratic form of government, there may be value in emulating the MI5 organization and jurisdiction in the United States. During a recent visit to the United States, the British Home Secretary David Blunkett met with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and agreed to establish a Joint Anti-Terrorism Working Group, in part, to leverage the United Kingdom’s anti-terrorism experience.

While there may be lessons to be learned from the British experience with domestic intelligence, there are also important differences between U.S. and British governmental, legal, cultural and political norms. At the political level, one fundamental difference between the British and United States’ system of democratic governance is that while Britain does not have a written constitution which specifies the rights of individuals, the United States does. Moreover, the British system focuses national political power in a unitary Parliament, while in the United States power is shared through federalism. Such differences may have important consequences for how individual rights and freedom are weighed against a nation states’ obligation to provide security for its population.

At the organizational level, the United Kingdom (U.K.) has chosen to separate its domestic intelligence entity (MI-5) from its various law enforcement agencies. The United States, however, has chosen to combine both federal law enforcement and domestic intelligence within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – an agency of the Department of Justice. Each organizational approach is the result of a complex interaction among societal cultures, unique experiences with terrorism, law enforcement and intelligence organizational cultures, legal precedents, and other factors. A core question involves the possible integration of domestic intelligence and law enforcement functions. Integration may improve coordination of these two functions, but may also undermine the focus and development of skill specialization necessary to succeed in each area.

This paper summarizes pending legislation relating to domestic intelligence, briefly explains the jurisdiction and functions of MI5, and describes some of the factors that may be relevant to a discussion regarding the applicability of the MI5 domestic intelligence model to the United States.

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