December 8, 2004 | Broadcast

The Flipside

Cliff, great to have you back on THE FLIPSIDE.


HAYS: So, give us your take. We heard the proponents saying this is a step in the right direction. Maybe prevent another attack. Critics saying, reshuffles the bureaucracies, reshuffles maybe the chairs on the decks and that`s about all it`s going to accomplish.

MAY: The hard truth is, we don`t really know. We do not know how to build an intelligence bureaucracy that is more imaginative, that is more disciplined, that analyzes better, that gathers intelligence better. We hope we have looked at best practices from other agencies. We hope we have looked at the mistakes that the intelligence community has been making pretty much for the last 25 years, during which they`ve gotten an lot more wrong than they`ve gotten right.

I think we have to see this as a process, not as a finished product. We have made some changes that we believe are necessary. There`s a general consensus. More changes are necessary. I think Mr. Sensenbrenner is right on that. I think the Patriot Act was part of the process. But I think it would be crazy for Congress to come back next year and not say, OK, how do we make our intelligence better in terms of gathering information, clandestine activities, all of the above, so that we can fight this war to a successful conclusion.

ELAM: Cliff, you just brought up the whole Sensenbrenner`s take on this, saying that he couldn`t support this. His issues, a lot of them having to do with driver`s licenses for illegal aliens. He`s concerned also about immigration. Where do you think these issues will be addressed since they weren`t directly addressed here in this bill?

MAY: I think they`ll be addressed by a new Congress in the new year in a new bill. I think Sensenbrenner, others think that`s going to be more difficult but I think it will happen and I think they`ll try to make it happen. I think the Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert, is going to approves of that and so is Tom Delay, the majority leader.

What one Republican House member said was that we have sort of installed a burglar alarm but we still have the back door swinging open. That`s not enough. Right now driver`s licenses are kind of the facto ID card in this country. You go to the airport, they ask for a driver`s license. Anybody can get them. They can get them as an illegal immigrant. They can get them with a false name. The hijackers of 9/11 had several dozen driver`s licenses according to House Member Sensenbrenner. So I think there`s a clear need to address immigration to make sure that all our borders are not porous.

HAYS: It seems to me there`s many reasons to address immigration. But let`s just take the issue of the driver`s licenses. Do we really need broad, new surveillance powers or do we just need local agencies being scrupulous and doing their jobs correctly and not letting people come in and get phony driver`s licenses.

MAY: Well, yes, but it`s very easy to get a phony driver`s license. In many states there`s really no way to prevent it. You come in and you get one and it`s as simple as that. I think what we need is, we want to have guests in this country, we want to have immigrants in this country, they should be here legally and they should have papers that identify them and we should know who they are. They shouldn`t come to this country three times under three separate identities and we have no way to find out. We should welcome people here but we should know who they are and what they`re doing here. We don`t have that capability right now that`s wrong.

HAYS: And we`re a huge country with very porous borders, you`re absolutely right.

But, Cliff, I want to ask you, you touched on the Patriot Act and, again, there are some civil liberties groups that feel that the surveillance powers granted under this bill are too broad and too big and do pose a threat to American liberty from a different standpoint. What do you think?

MAY: I think they`re mistaken about that. I think the first thing the Patriot Act does is it breaks down the wall that had been erected between intelligence on one side and law enforcement on the other side. Now the new bill, part of what it does is not just break down the wall but encourage that kind of interchange by having one national intelligence director.

Also, it gives to law enforcement, in regard to terrorism, the same powers they already have in regard to organized crime. I don`t think that goes too far either. I`m not against talking hard looks but I do not believe that anything in the Patriot Act has in any way compromised your civil liberties or mine.

ELAM: Now you`re saying this but I`m sure there`s some people who are saying, who`s to decide that wiretapping against someone who could be a terrorist and say, me, what`s the difference between doing that between those two individuals and how do you regulate who`s going to get it and who`s not? I don`t think that line has been very clear.

MAY: I think you`re absolutely right and I think it`s a valid criticism. And the answer to it has to be this, there have to be judges overseeing it. You can`t simply have law enforcement getting a wiretap without going to an authority, a judge, and saying, here`s the reason why I need this. This is not frivolous. I`ve got a real cause. That is there under the Patriot Act and I think it needs to remain there. And if anybody thinks it`s not there, then go take a look at it. But right now it is not possible for law enforcement to do things to a terrorist suspect in any way different than what we do for an organized crime suspect.

HAYS: So, Cliff, I guess I`d like to ask you, moving ahead, what you would like to see this national intelligence director do. How you would like to see this director. Because I must say, my basic cynicism is that government bureaucracies, you know, people cover their butts, people pad their nests. I don`t know that they`re all a bigger bureaucracy is necessarily the way to make us safer. So how does this have to happen so that it`s going to be efficient and streamlined to get the job done?

MAY: A great question and great question for this show. And I think the answer is this. How would you take a company that was failing and restructure it in the private sector? What you wouldn`t do is simply have the board of directors produce a long memo, which is what a bill is, and then find somebody to implement it. Rather, you would find the person who`s going to take this job on, the CEO in effect, and you say, here are recommendations and here are some of our rules. You take this look at it, begin to implement it and then you come back to us and tell us what you need to get the job done, how we`re helping you, how we`re not helping you and then we`ll work it further. That`s the way it would work in the private sector, that`s the way it should work here.

I would also suggest that we look at other intelligence agencies for best practices. The ones we think are doing a good job. That could mean Mosod (ph) and Shinveck (ph) in Israel. It could be an MI5 (ph), an MI 6 (ph) in the United Kingdom. Any of the ones that we think are doing things right and we learn from their experiences well. It`s very hard for the former governor of New Jersey, for example, to sit down with a former member of Congress and say, I am going to redesign a bureaucracy to make the most efficient and smart intelligence agency the world has ever seen. What`s the basis?

ELAM: Cliff, you were talking about what this means. What does it mean for President Bush who, obviously, didn`t want this position in the first place but then went along with it because there was so much pressure but then it was difficult getting it through Congress. What does this mean to him as far as the unity of the overall Republicans right now?

MAY: Well, I think we`re going to see a time of somewhat less unity. President Bush won reelection. That`s great for him but it also means, in certain ways, less power next time around. Republicans increased their majority in both the House and the Senate. That means they`re more in control. That means there`s going to be more fights among them. They don`t need the same unity in order to worry about the next election.

But that`s a healthy thing. There were those who said, oh, President Bush should have twisted arms and just made everybody vote for this bill right away, before there was any debate or compromise. I think that`s wrong. I think debate is good. I think dissension is often good. I`ve talked to Democrats and Republicans on the Hill yesterday, both of whom said this bill is better now for the debate and for the compromise that they had bringing in, for example, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who was concerned that intelligence wouldn`t get to our troops in the field on a timely basis. Now he feels better about it. I think this is a good thing.

Look, Bush didn`t want to – as Allen Lichter (ph) mentioned, I think he`s right, Bush wouldn`t want to start the new year with a bill that he supported having failed. On the other hand, it`s as good to have a certain amount of controversy and discussion before a bill passes. I can tell you, most of the members of Congress probably are not as familiar with this bill as they should be at this moment. It took the 9/11 Commission 18 months to come up with all this. It`s OK for Congress to spend some time deliberating. And, again, I think this has to be part of a process that continues next year because the war against terrorism is nowhere near a conclusion.

HAYS: Well, that`s one thing I think everyone can agree on.

Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Thanks so much. It was great to have you on the show again.

MAY: Thank you.