Edwards’ Controversial Spy Plan

Mr. Edwards himself acknowledged in his Pace University speech that “CITO is not a panacea,” and to underscore the point that the organization would take time to develop, he quoted John F. Kennedy call for a ban on nuclear weapon tests by saying a “journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”

Still, some critics said the organization nevertheless was likely to do more harm than good.

“There are plenty of organizations involved in sharing intelligence, and adding another layer is probably not going to help, it’s probably going to make more bureaucratic noise,” said Gary Schmitt, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who was a former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and executive director of the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under President Ronald Reagan. “And the truth is that the most valuable intelligence just simply isn’t going to be shared in that forum.”

While the United States has enjoyed fruitful intelligence-sharing in bilateral channels with countries such as Great Britain, Israel and Jordan—and recent arrests of extremists in Germany resulted from bilateral intelligence-sharing—multilateral treaties, many intelligence professionals say, only complicate matters.

“There are enormous practical problems and where it has been tried so far—most notably in NATO—it is going at a very, very slow rate,” said Mr. Riedel, who also served as the special adviser to NATO’s Terrorism Threat Intelligence Unit between 2003 and 2006. “It’s an intriguing proposal,” he said of the Edwards plan. “But there are really serious obstacles.”

Another area for concern, they said, is a CITO provision for allied response cells consisting of security and intelligence professionals from member nations to respond to specific threats across multiple countries.

“Sharing information is one thing, but response teams?” said a NATO official speaking on background because he would not comment about issues affecting the American presidential election. “Now it’s starting to sound like a Tom Clancy novel.”

Michael Signer, Mr. Edwards’ deputy policy director for foreign affairs and national security, emphasized that CITO was meant as a complement, not a replacement, to the existing institutions governing international affairs.

“It’s not an organization that is solving everything for all time,” Mr. Signer said.

To argue that CITO will be different, the Edwards campaign echoes the Monday Night Football terrorism-speak of Rudy Giuliani when it says the new organization will “put terrorism on the defensive.” CITO, the campaign says, will be more focused on intelligence than NATO is, more efficient than the United Nations and more diplomatically and politically savvy than Interpol.

“The key here to CITO is that this is a bold, new, innovative idea to bring together things that have not been well coordinated up to the present,” Gordon Adams, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Edwards and a former national security official in the Clinton administration, said in a Sept. 10 conference call with reporters.