On March 18th, the Brennan Center held a day-long symposium, Intelligence Collection and Law Enforcement: New Roles, New Challenges.
Video of remarks by Michael Waldman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, and Hon. John O. Brennan. Text of Brennan’s remarks is available here.
In the post-9/11 world, law enforcement officials are increasingly charged with a new mission. They are no longer merely crime-fighters, tasked with investigating crimes that have happened or are underway. They are also intelligence-collectors, tasked with gathering information in order to stop the next terrorist attack before it happens. Last week’s event brought together an array of perspectives to discuss the implication of this new role. Speakers included John O. Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, Ranking Member on the House Homeland Security Committee. See recent Brennan Center reports on this topic: Rethinking Radicalization and Domestic Intelligence: New Powers, New Risks.
In a speech to roughly 100 attendees, Brennan outlined the current state of America’s counterterrorism and national security strategies, both at home and abroad, emphasizing their complex nature. He also addressed the intersection of intelligence gathering and law enforcement.
Law enforcement and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can and must reinforce one another. Intelligence is absolutely critical to identifying and disrupting terrorist networks. It empowers law enforcement, informing their operations and enabling them to identify and disrupt plots before they are carried out. … Law enforcement is equally indispensable. Through aggressive investigations, we have been able to identify members of terrorist networks and detect their plots. The tools available to law enforcement allow us to act swiftly to disrupt the plots we uncover, and to incapacitate dangerous individuals through successful prosecution and conviction.
Brennan spoke at length about the Obama administration’s policy on Guantanamo Bay, reiterating its commitment to close the military detention facility. His also strongly endorsed the administration’s policy on holding civilian trials for terrorist suspects whenever possible, while reserving the right to use military commissions when necessary.
Because of the reforms passed by Congress, we succeeded in bringing the military commission system in line with the rule of law, and with our values. Today, both systems—the federal courts and military commissions—can be used to disrupt terrorists’ plots and activities, to gather intelligence, and to incapacitate them through prosecution. But, we must let the facts and circumstances of each case determine which tool we use. That is the only way to ensure we achieve the result that best serves the safety and security of the American people.
Finally, Brennan discussed interrogation policy, noting that the administration has unequivocally banned the use of torture and other abusive techniques.
The symposium, and Brennan’s appearance, received considerable coverage in the media. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported on Brennan’s remarks concerning the ongoing situation in Libya. The Associated Press, ProPublica, and Politico wrote that Brennan reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to civilian trials for terrorist suspects. Agence France-Presse and Adam Serwer of the American Prospect also wrote about Brennan’s comments at the symposium.
Shahid Buttar, Executive Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, who participated in one of the symposium’s panels, also wrote a detailed blog post recapping the event.