WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Formation of a domestic intelligence-gathering agency similar to Britain's MI-5, prompted by the need to prevent terrorist activity and attack, is not under consideration by the Bush administration given provisions of the U.S. Constitution, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said Sunday.
Reported surveillance of Iraqi nationals and people of dual U.S.-Iraqi citizenship was also being conducted under constitutional strictures, he said, as would domestic intelligence operations if the United States was to go to war with Iraq.
"We need to remind ourselves from time to time as Americans, we do operate under a rule of law," Ridge said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." "We are guided by a Constitution, and we're not going to -- as difficult as this war on terrorism would be, as difficult as it would be for this country if we would engage
Iraq militarily, those measures that we take internally still have to be consistent with the Constitution of the United States.
"We know that and we expect it as Americans.
"There are lessons to be learned from how MI5 operates, but I don't think you're going to see a similar organization be developed in this country."
Britain does not have a written constitution. It's MI-5, the domestic equivalent of its foreign intelligence service MI-6, has been over the years heavily involved in countering activities in Britain by the Irish Republican Army and its sympathizers.
Speculation over creation of a U.S. equivalent arose earlier over Ridge's visit to Britain to meet with MI-5 officials and news reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was having difficulty transforming itself from a law enforcement entity to an also intelligence-gathering one to fulfill its new mission in the war on terrorism.
The FBI, with the Central Intelligence Agency, brief President George W. Bush every morning on threats to the country.
"We have made enormous progress in combining domestic and foreign
intelligence gathering capacity in this country," Ridge said. "CIA and the FBI are
working closer together than ever before."
Ongoing consultations and discussions, however, were necessary he said to continually attempt to improve counter-terrorism efforts.
Ridge, repeated his remarks on several other interview shows Sunday, fronting the administration's insistence of progress in the war on terrorism, a stance under attack by Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and others.
"If you're looking at a measure of success, take a look at the success the military's enjoyed in Afghanistan: There are no longer any training camps, we basically liberated a country," Ridge said on the CNN program. "We're working with our allies, we've frozen over $100 million worth of their assets. Working with our allies we now have nearly 2,700 people under detention, we get more information about their threats and operational capability."
Other issues broached by Ridge:
--The latest threat of a "spectacular" attack on the United States: "I think the document that the FBI put out a couple of days ago was basically summarizing some of the threats we've heard during the past two months. And 'spectacular' -- we know spectacular, we've got the sights and the sounds of Sept. 11, 2001, in our hearts and in our minds. But we also know that they have the capacity, we've seen it around the rest of the world, to operate in isolated events where you don't have mass casualties. But we need to be prepared, as a country, to prevent the entire range of potential attacks. And from time to time, we do get the threats of a potential spectacular attack. But there has never been a time and a place and a means associated with those general threats," he said on ABC television.
--On a new tape from al Qaida, with a voice believed to be that of Osama bin Laden, indicating the suspected terrorist mastermind was alive despite U.S. efforts in Afghanistan: "We believe it's likely (his voice) and we certainly are going to act as if it is. But again, the fact that we either get taped messages, video messages, or paper messages, we know we are at war. We know that this is a decentralized organization that has cells around the country. We know they plan. We know they from time to time go from the planning stage to the operational stage, as we've seen over the past three or four weeks," Ridge told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
"And we know that in spite of the fact that it is a global organization and our allies and friends around the world are at risk, the United States has been and will remain the number one target."
Ridge also said he would be willing to serve as secretary of the proposed Department of Homeland Security if the president asked him. There had been speculation that Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania, did not want the post in the new agency, which will combine some 22 government agencies and departments and employ 170,000 people.
Legislation creating the department has passed the House and is expected to be approved shortly in the Senate, where an earlier version stalled in a dispute over workers' union rights.