Dick Coffman is an international business and security consultant and commentator on intelligence, homeland security and counterterrorism.
He served 31 years in the Central Intelligence Agency. Before that, he served four years in the US Marine Corps, including duty in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserves as a Colonel in 1992.
While in the CIA, Mr. Coffman formed and managed CIA's first counterterrorism analytic organization. He was Chief of Station, chief of staff to the Agency's operations director, coordinator of major US worldwide intelligence programs, and CIA representative to the NATO commander.
He is founder and President of Coffman Global Group, which provides information, intelligence and business development services.
He is also Managing Director and Chairman of Odysseus Group International, Washington DC, , which employs a worldwide network to provide business facilitation and marketing as well as professional security services to private sector companies and government agencies.
Americans today face a grim reality: the terrorist enemy is embedded inside our borders, and we lack the intelligence tools to find and root out them out.
We have plenty of evidence that the US is laced with Al Qaeda and other clandestine and active terrorist cells planning and preparing attacks, recruiting new members and maintaining an underground infrastructure.
We know that most of the 9/11 hijackers prepared their operations while residing in southern California, Arizona, the mid-Atlantic region, the upper Midwest and Florida. The conspirators that bombed the World Trade Center in 1994 were based in the greater New York metropolitan area.
Since 9/11, federal authorities have arrested suspected terrorists in the Pacific Northwest, Detroit, and Buffalo. Finally, the Washington Times citing US intelligence and law enforcement officials reported this month that authorities are actively working against al Qaeda cells in US cities with large Islamic populations, including New York, Detroit and Los Angeles.
An overarching problem is that we have yet to completely adjust our thinking from reacting to trouble to preventing it and even preempting it on a national scale. Also, the weight of our national security agencies remains focused on potential conflicts and hotspots overseas.
Want more proof that our eyes are not fully on the ball? The Congress has yet to authorize the Department of Homeland Security 14 months after 9/11 and in the face of reams of evidence of what went wrong with our misdirected and decentralized agencies and uncoordinated procedures.
Well-meaning and aggressive federal and local police actions in the wake of 9/11 are merely scratching the surface. Despite a treasure trove of documents and interrogation reports from our military and allies abroad and a massive federal intelligence and investigative effort targeted on al Qaeda, we still don't know precisely where the terrorists and their supporters are located, their strength, their targets or timetable for attacks.
This should give us great pause, as it exactly parallels the situation prior to 9/11.
What's more, our homeland lacks the indispensable first line of defense: a central domestic intelligence agency, to collect intelligence nationwide on terrorists and their support networks, analyze and collate this information and distribute it in time for effective action at the federal or local level.
We need an American version of Britain's MI-5, which has been dedicated for decades to protect the British homeland from IRA terrorists.
Point defense in a continental country the size of the US without a tradition of homeland security is a daunting task. But, we have compounded our problem by leaky border controls, resulting in several million illegal immigrants and many thousands more documented but suspicious aliens roaming the United States uncontrolled. Moreover, our thousands of law enforcement and security agencies belong to independent political jurisdictions and are governed by a bewildering array of statutes and regulations. Timely coordination and information sharing nationwide is virtually impossible without central direction.
Dedicated and trained terrorists can slip into these cracks and conduct their activities in the United States in relative safety and anonymity.
Only a well-funded and independent intelligence operation has a chance to ferret such clandestine and elusive cells. Neither federal nor local law enforcement, which are largely trained and organized to react to criminal activity, has the resources, infrastructure or manpower to mount a sophisticated and coordinated intelligence effort.
That includes federal law enforcement agencies with intelligence experience, including the FBI, Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service. Their intelligence capabilities are far too weak for a rigorous national effort.
It's clear that we must build a new agency from the ground up, drawing on the relevant experience and skills of security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies rather than constructing a domestic intelligence capability on an existing agency or cobbling together parts of present organizations.
To be sure, we must recognize that a CIA-like organization operating in the US raises serious and legitimate civil liberties issues. They must be addressed openly and expeditiously, and processes must stand the tests of time and the Courts. But we cannot be immobilized by endless debate and minute lawyering.
Our security is at stake, and Americans have always been equal to the task of erecting oversight that will facilitate legitimate intelligence work while protecting both the security and civil liberties of our citizens.
There is another, almost equally important obstacle to be overcome. Intelligence and law enforcement veterans have weathered three decades of investigations -- some legitimate, others frivolous or political. They are understandably gun-shy about undertaking such a sensitive task without liability protection against illegitimate and politically inspired sanctions.
No one would stand for untrammeled authority for such an important but sensitive undertaking. But, without a properly safeguarded and effective domestic intelligence capability, our homeland will not be safe from terror threat.