Thursday, December 09, 2004



We Americans are usually loath to learn anything about government (or anything else) from foreigners, especially Europeans. Most western European nations have parliamentary systems, rather than the presidential system that we prize. Most of them use some form of proportional representation in electing their parliaments. We (and the Brits) stick stubbornly to the single-member districts which discourage the creation and growth of new or alternative political parties and virtually guarantee the perpetuation of the two-party system of representation.

However, we do copy European models in some instances. One instance is the combination of all intelligence and police operations under one Director of National Intelligence. If the new DNI is to be more than a mere figurehead, he (or she) will have power and influence comparable to the head of the former Russian KGB. The KGB (the initials stand for “Committee on State Security” in Russian) carried out intelligence operations (spying) both outside and inside the Soviet Union. It also carried out police operations. It was the Russian equivalent of a combination of the American CIA and FBI into one organization.

When my wife and I toured the Soviet Union in 1978, we were provided guides, tour buses, and hotel accommodations by Intourist, a government organization to take care of tourists. Intourist was a branch of the KGB. Our own DNI will have to be involved in keeping track of foreign visitors, those with visas as well as those without. Following the Russian practice, we may set up our own organization to care for and watch tourists. Perhaps we can call it “Ameritourist.” Certainly from the viewpoint of homeland security it is important to keep track of all visitors and control those places that they visit. It was a similar concern that led the new Soviet government in the 1920’s to set up the OGPU (which later became the KGB). The regime was threatened by both domestic and foreign agents.

Our government is in a similar situation. It is possible that agents of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations wander about freely in our country. The American public has a hysterical fear of another atrocity like the one of 9/11/2001. The government has to respond. So far the result has been the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence. The future will show whether these efforts will accomplish their purposes and what other unexpected results may happen.

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