February 13, 2003

WASHINGTON-Senator John Edwards on Thursday introduced legislation to create a Homeland Intelligence Agency to replace FBI units that failed to uncover the September 11 terrorists and still cannot find suspected al Qaeda operatives in the United States.

"We need to be smarter to make America safer," Senator Edwards said. "The FBI is the best law enforcement agency on the planet, but September 11 showed how it has failed as an intelligence gathering agency."

The urgency of the terrorist threat and inability of the FBI to track down cells in the United States was underscored at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday, when Director Robert S. Mueller III admitted that the FBI does not know the identities or whereabouts of suspected al Qaeda operatives plotting attacks on the United States.

Senator Edwards, who serves on both the intelligence and judiciary committees, called Director Mueller's FBI reform proposals 17 months after the September 11 attacks "too little, too late."

Under Senator Edwards' legislation, the new agency would focus on intelligence, not law enforcement. That focus would let the agency do a better job than the FBI has done tracking terrorist operatives in this country and coordinating intelligence with local law enforcement officials and other federal agencies. The measure also would safeguard civil liberties by preventing privacy abuses and requiring court approval before information may be gathered on religious or political groups.

"Intelligence and law enforcement are such fundamentally different functions that they should not be performed in the same agency," said Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel. "Senator Edwards' proposal will enhance our ability both to collect and analyze intelligence that is critical to our domestic security."

The bill to create the Homeland Intelligence Agency is the centerpiece of a series of six homeland security measures proposed by Senator Edwards in the six weeks since Congress convened.

Senator Edwards also faulted President Bush for sending Congress a budget that shortchanges homeland security needs. "The president has chosen tax breaks for 226,000 millionaires over homeland security for 290 million Americans," he said.

The five other bills in the homeland security package would help neighborhood watch programs, improve emergency warning systems, make government computer systems less vulnerable to attack, strengthen potential terrorist targets like skyscrapers and stadiums, and give local first responders more access to classified intelligence information.