Editorial: Feds need to focus on fixing own agencies

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 15, 2002

Instead of urging Americans to spy on each other, maybe the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service should get serious about putting their own houses in order. News this week that 775 weapons and some 400 laptop computers are missing from the agencies’ inventory are just confirmation of what Americans have been realizing for the past year: The people we pay to keep us safe are bungling the job.

As the government, primarily through the Homeland Security department, gets serious about protecting our country it continues to focus on the wrong places. This summer, some security officials have proposed a plan in which Americans who have access to others’ homes &045; those who make deliveries, do repairs and so on &045; have been asked to observe and report on anything they see that may be suspicious. The government’s plan would effectively turn almost anyone into a secret police operative, a situation reminiscent of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia &045; both times and places where innocent people lived in fear of informers.

Meanwhile, investigations into why the FBI and CIA were unable to predict or stop the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are going nowhere &045; at least as far as anyone can tell. Indeed, they have disintegrated to the point that the FBI last week suggested administering lie-detector tests to members of Congress to determine which might have leaked sensitive information. It is an obvious attempt by the FBI to intimidate Congress and to prevent any suggestions of meaningful change within the ineffective law enforcement bureaucracy. Then this week came the news that the FBI and INS have lost track of hundreds of weapons and computers. Nor do they know what sensitive information is on those computers.

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If federal law enforcement agencies are serious about computers, they should truly turn their attention to cleaning up their own operations rather than protecting their turf. Incompetent managers should be fired, useless systems abandoned. Getting our existing security organizations into working order is a basic step the government needs to take &045; long before it moves on to domestic spying.