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Challenges for the New Administration

THE NEW presidential administration is facing a much more dangerous world than President Bush did eight years ago, according to David Kay, former International Atomic Energy Agency/United Nations Special Committee Chief Nuclear Weapons Inspector. Kay made the comments at the recent conference “National Security and the Law—Issues for the New Administration,” during which experts took a look at the national security threats facing the Obama administration and offered their advice on how to deal with the challenges.

The conference was cosponsored by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security; the Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security at the Duke University School of Law; and the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Panelists outlined the threat landscape that faces the new president. Kay said the world is more dangerous due to the major political, economic, and social crises facing so many countries. “Imagine the economic impact of the current crisis as it is rippling across societies that do not have our safety net,” said Kay. He specifically pointed to Pakistan, which he said was facing bankruptcy while fighting several internal civil wars under a corrupt political system. Kay added that another looming national security crisis is a nuclear renaissance, which will result in nuclear power plant construction throughout the world. Our current nonproliferation regime is only prepared to assess compliance with existing rules, not noncompliance, according to Kay.

Joel Brenner, national counterintelligence executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), said that one of the major security risks is that secrets are no longer just kept by the government; they’re electronic and everyone’s information is a target.

“Our technology has outrun our ability to control the secrets that we keep,” said Brenner. He likened the ability to fight a cyberthreat to the idea of living in a neighborhood that has police who aren’t allowed to chase criminals or take off their masks; he says we need to first be able to identify the attackers to implement a deterrence strategy.

Joseph Billy, former Assistant Director for Counterterrorism at the FBI, emphasized that a key challenge for the next administration will be trying to deter potential homegrown terrorists.

The conference also tackled the topic of what the new administration can do to improve intelligence and reform the national security structure. William C. Banks, Professor of Law and Director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University College of Law, said that despite the presence of congressional intelligence committees, there needs to be more oversight over topics such as whether intelligence agencies are asking the right questions or are rigorous enough in their analysis. He pointed out that there is no committee between the executive branch’s national security staff and Congress, which poses a structural issue. “Everyone knows that the jurisdictional oversight of intelligence is in serious need of reform.”

James Lochner was at the conference representing the nonpartisan, congressionally funded Project on National Security Reform (PNSR). “The national security system is broken, but it’s fixable,” assessed Lochner. The committee’s recommendations include the following: having the House of Representatives and Senate form a select committee on national security that will allow for a broader perspective, having an executive order to encourage integration of security entities, and enacting an entirely new national security act. Lochner says that if the national security system is managed as a whole, rather than each agency staying separate, the system will be better able to assess objectives and threats.

Some of the panelists’ attention centered on the effectiveness of ODNI, which was created under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to oversee the other intelligence agencies. The panel was asked whether these calls for reform mean that ODNI has failed.

Michael J. Heimbach, Assistant Director of Counterterrorism for the FBI, defended ODNI, stating that it was a “work in progress,” and that it was difficult to corral all 16 intelligence agencies under one roof. Lochner said that although ODNI is a shell under which the intelligence agencies are grouped, the problem is that there aren’t shared values among the agencies.

Although Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has moved in that direction, explained Lochner, the legislation creating the office was incomplete and didn’t provide enough resources.

Another impediment to cooperation is that agencies don’t trust each other, said Lochner. His group suggests that implementing standing interagency teams would break organizational allegiance and encourage teamwork.

PNSR states that it hopes to work with the new administration on implementing its recommendations, according to Lochner. Although several issues will compete for the attention of the new Congress and presidential administration, national security will surely be at the forefront. And it’s evident from this conference that there will be a multitude of different opinions on what needs to be done to keep the country safe.