This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Kevin Williamson has written an excellent article for National Review online, “Agents and Agencies: Donald Trump should push for intelligence reform”. I strongly encourage readers to take a look.
In it, Williamson says, “The Wall Street Journal reports that Donald Trump’s recent public criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies presages an effort to reorganize the nation’s sundry spy bureaucracies. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, denies that the president has any such plan in mind. If he doesn’t, he damn well should.”
That’s a sentiment I heartily agree with, particularly as concerns the Office of the Director of National Intelligence which, like most government “czars”, only adds a layer of bureaucracy at the stratospheric levels of government, while adding little value. (This is something I covered in more detail when reviewing a statute embedded within the yearly defense budget for 2017 recently passed by the House of Representatives.)
But what I like most about Williamson’s piece is this:
What is needed is a seamless-garment approach to intelligence gathering at the federal level, which will necessarily touch everything from financial oversight to immigration to old-fashioned military and espionage operations. The dissemination of that information to and coordination with domestic law-enforcement agencies poses some tricky legal and ethical questions — questions that we will want answered in a consistent and effective way that comports with our existing civil-rights practices. (Emphasis added.)
All too often we see immigration mentioned only as an afterthought in the context of intelligence and national security, notwithstanding the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) out of the chaos of the 9/11 attacks. In fact, the actual operational workings of the various immigration agencies within DHS (CBP, ICE, USCIS) seem to be at sharp variance with the goals outlined in their mission statements. This is particularly true with USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), the organization charged with granting or denying benefits to aliens seeking to enter or remain in the United States under various visa categories or as refugees and asylees. The agency focuses almost entirely on being “yes-friendly” rather than as an impartial adjudicator of benefits in the national interest.
In fairness, that critique was as true of the Bush administration as it has been for the Obama administration. The difference is one of degree, which admittedly has tilted shockingly out of balance in the last eight years. But USCIS has functioned, almost from the beginning, more as an ombudsman for aliens generally than it has as an outgrowth of a cabinet department charged with safeguarding the homeland.
There is now a chance to change this with the nomination of General John Kelly to head DHS. The tone under which DHS and its subordinate agencies will operate must start at the top. At USCIS, it would be particularly helpful for examiners to hear these words: “When there is a doubt and it comes to a choice between granting a benefit or protecting the American people, it’s okay to deny the benefit. In fact, it’s your job. Aliens are obliged to prove to you that they are clearly and unequivocally entitled to enter or remain, not the other way around.”
Of course, the other two agencies I mentioned earlier, CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) also merit a close look by General Kelly and his senior staff.
As Williamson comments in his piece, “We don’t lose wars because our soldiers cannot win them but because our politicians cannot; similarly, we are not losing the intelligence wars because we lack a national talent for spookery.”
That observation is as true of immigration enforcement as it is of the armed forces or the federal intelligence apparatus. Our immigration enforcement and border control agencies don’t lack competence — what they lack is an environment in which agents and officers are free to do their jobs without political interference while shackled with “transformational” philosophical agendas.
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