Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 15, 2006

DOJ to review British anti-terror laws

Filed under: Legal Issues — by Christian Beckner on August 15, 2006

From today’s New York Times:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on Monday ordered a side-by-side review of American and British counterterrorism laws as a first step toward determining whether further changes in American law are warranted.

The plot to blow up airliners bound from Britain to the United States has highlighted differences in legal policies between the two allies, with American officials suggesting that their British counterparts have greater flexibility to prevent attacks.

Newly revised British counterterrorism laws, for instance, allow the authorities to hold a suspect for 28 days without charges, where American law generally requires that a suspect held in the civilian court system be charged or released within 48 hours.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in appearances on the Sunday morning news programs that he thought bringing American laws more closely into line with Britain’s, particularly regarding the detention of terror suspects without charges, could help deter threats at home.

U.S. officials should always look to what other countries are doing in terms of counterterrorism and homeland security for new ideas. But this is a narrow-minded exercise if it only focuses on the legal aspects of how the Brits operate, and not also the more important management-related issues (e.g. human capital management, communications and decision-making processes). I suspect that the most important secrets of their success can be found by asking questions such as the following:

  • How do the British anti-terror agencies recruit, train, promote, and establish incentives for their employees?
  • Are there clearly defined roles and responsibilities among the lead agencies?
  • What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the various lead agencies cooperate and share information with one another?
  • How is information shared back and forth between national and local officials?

Hopefully this type of ‘lessons-learned’ exercise will also take place. This report on the intelligence-sharing framework in the UK is a good place to start.

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