We Don't Need Our Own MI5

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By William J. Bratton
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On July 5, 2005, police in Torrance, Calif., a small city bordering Los Angeles, arrested two men leaving a gas station after a robbery. That kind of crime predates Bonnie and Clyde. The next day, Torrance detectives executed a search warrant on the apartment of one of the suspects in my city, Los Angeles. There they found documents that seemed to give clues to the planning of attacks on locations in Los Angeles.

Immediately, Torrance called in the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. FBI agents, detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff's department, and a team of analysts began to go through the documents. According to the indictment, they uncovered plans to attack U.S. military facilities in Los Angeles County and places where Jews gather, from synagogues to the Israeli consulate.

It appeared there might be other suspects involved. We needed to move quickly and quietly. That night, my phone rang at 3 a.m. It was the LAPD command center notifying me that bombs were going off on London trains at the height of the city's rush hour. I knew we had to address security concerns for our own rush hour.

This is the world of a big-city police chief today. A terrorist plot in your own back yard, another unfolding half a world away. You need the agility to react to both, sometimes simultaneously.

In both cases, my efforts were linked seamlessly with the Los Angeles office of the FBI and its Joint Terrorism Task Force and Field Intelligence Group. This is the new normal.

I have security clearances and identification that give me unfettered access to the FBI's offices here. I am briefed on classified operations and worldwide threats whether there is a connection to Los Angeles or not. The FBI understands the need for

information-sharing.

Lately people have been calling on Washington to create a new domestic intelligence agency, without police powers -- like Britain's MI5 -- to take over from the FBI and be the lead in gathering and analyzing intelligence as it relates to terrorism. The argument goes that the "FBI culture" is that of a criminal investigative agency driven to make arrests and bring prosecutions and that the bureau does not have the instinct to draw back and look at the wider picture as a purely intelligence-driven agency might. I disagree.

Today, FBI intelligence analysts sit side by side with LAPD and sheriff's analysts in a Joint Regional Intelligence Center here. Our investigations are intelligence-driven. When we don't have enough information, we can gather intelligence for weeks, months or even years. When the intelligence tells us there is a threat to public safety, we can move in and make arrests.

A new agency that would gather intelligence and then go to law enforcement to take action would add an unnecessary step. If the problem before Sept. 11, 2001, was that the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing, how would a third hand help?

America's police departments have achieved a higher level of synergy with the FBI on intelligence and investigations than at any other time in history. If it's not broken, let's not try to fix it. The writer has been police commissioner of Boston and New York City. He is currently the police chief of Los Angeles.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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