Wanted: A Master Spy

To help thwart another Al Qaeda attack, a House-Senate panel looking into intelligence lapses pre-Sept. 11 has recommended setting up one cabinet-level director of intelligence.

It's an idea that could, among other things, help eliminate turf battles among the 14 intelligence-related agencies. It could also keep power and money from resting lopsidedly, as it does now, in the Pentagon.

But last month, Congress gave a green light to the Defense Department to create a new Under Secretariat for Intelligence, ostensibly to better coordinate multiple intelligence efforts there. Yet that move, long advocated by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, could both politicize and undercut analysis from other sources, such as the CIA.

The CIA director already has titular authority to coordinate the entire intelligence community. But the Defense Department currently controls some 85 percent of the overall intelligence budget. A new military intelligence czar inside Defense could further erode the sometimes fragile cooperation with the CIA and other such spy agencies.

Creating a government-wide director of intelligence would set up a clearinghouse for all the warnings from the various agencies - warnings that, not taken together, could too easily be overlooked.

The congressional panel's report concluded that a decentralized structure was the main reason the US was unable to piece together Al Qaeda-related clues before Sept. 11.

Fighting terrorism is more than a military operation. The FBI is retooling itself to focus on would-be terrorists in the US. And CIA agents are posted at the FBI as part of an ongoing effort to improve communication.

Having one intelligence director would more effectively allow the US to deal with terrorist networks.

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