SMARTER ABOUT INTELLIGENCE
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: President Bush has announced another reshuffling of government bureaus, this one a welcome response to repeated disclosures of turf wars, intelligence hoarding and other bickering within government agencies charged with the task of fighting terrorism. Some questions need to be raised about the powers and purpose of a new agency born in the reshuffling, but there is no question about the importance of its mission.
Which is, according to the White House, "to merge and analyze terrorist-related information collected domestically and abroad in order to form the most comprehensive possible threat picture." The data will be collected from the CIA, the FBI, the Defense Department and Tom Ridge's new Department of Homeland Security. Dubbed the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, it will be headed by CIA Director George Tenet, who sat immediately behind Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday during his dramatic indictment of Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
Investigations conducted in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, resulted in heavy criticism, especially of the FBI and the CIA, for their failure to share information that might have led to the disruption of the terrorists before they struck.
Terrorism strategy session
The CIA, for instance, reportedly delayed telling the FBI about Al-Qaida operatives who attended a terrorism strategy session in Indonesia in 2000. Two of the operatives later entered the United States and were among the hijackers of Sept. 11.
Even now, with all that has happened and all that has been promised since that terrorist attack, information between these and other government agencies is too often shared, as one government official complained, only "by brute force."
Under Director Robert Mueller, the FBI still seems trapped in an obsolete culture, unwilling or unable to transform itself from a 20th-century law enforcement agency that nabs bank robbers and kidnappers into a 21st-century organization devoted chiefly to the fight against domestic terrorism.
Although this fragmentation and obsolescence must end, some distinctions and limits need to be preserved. By tradition, and under the authority of U.S. law, the CIA has considerable leeway in gathering intelligence overseas and conducting so-called "black ops," some of which are both secret and violent.
The FBI, by contrast, must and should respect the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, including their right to privacy. Some of these rights already are being tested, and as Tenet carries out his new assignment, forming and supervising the new threat integration center, he should take care that these rights are respected and preserved.
Washington Post: Is anybody out there actually opposed to hydrogen fuel cells? Given the universal appeal of this technology, probably not. In theory, hydrogen fuel cells could power not just cars but also buses and laptops, and could even provide heating for office buildings and homes. Hydrogen fuel cells do not require expensive imported oil. They emit nothing except water. No wonder Congress applauded when the president, during his State of the Union address, proposed $1.2 billion in funding for research that might lead to the production of hydrogen-fueled cars.
It's hard to object to this proposal, and, in principle, we don't: Government-funded research in other fields has led to more than one technological breakthrough. We do, however, object to the idea, clearly conveyed in the president's speeches -- on Thursday he spoke of hydrogen fuel cells as a "way to advance into the 21st century" -- that there is something new or radical about this particular initiative, or that it would solve our immediate energy and pollution problems. True, it is more money than was spent the last several times this new idea was proposed.
The Hydrogen Future Act of 1996 mandated the spending of a mere $150 million on hydrogen fuel cell research. In 2002, when Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced a big program of research into hydrogen fuel cells, he proposed only $500 million. But although $1.2 billion over five years does sound like more, it isn't quite as much as it sounds: Among other things, that number includes Mr. Abraham's $500 million. "New" funding would in fact amount to only $720 million -- assuming that this doesn't also turn out to be money coming from existing programs.
If the president's initiative isn't new, neither does it represent an especially bold national investment. By contrast, the Apollo space program cost $23 billion -- in 1966 dollars. It is also less than the private sector will spend during the same time period: Toyota alone has been doing research on this technology since 1992. For those reasons, the president's initiative shouldn't be allowed to overshadow other important environmental research, such as work on super-fuel-efficient cars (funding for which the president cut), or to dodge the debates about acceptable levels of air pollution and energy conservation. Not only are there real questions about how soon this technology will become viable, many have pointed out that coal, nuclear energy -- or, indeed, oil -- may be needed to produce hydrogen itself. We may hear tales of "new" hydrogen fuel cell research many times before a true hydrogen-based economy becomes reality -- and we need to make our fossil-fuel economy cleaner and more efficient in the meantime.