Don't rush intelligence reform
WASHINGTON — Congress is proceeding "with all deliberate speed" - the Supreme Court's famous prescription for school integration - in its approach to the 9/11 commission's recommendations for reorganizing the intelligence community. This is as it should be. Congress almost invariably messes up when it tries to act in a hurry. A good bill is more likely to emerge a year from now than a month from now.
Above all, the 9/11 commission wants a national intelligence director with real authority over tasking, budgets, and personnel. This is what Congress and the Truman White House thought they were getting when the CIA was created in 1947. It is what President Bush took a step toward last week with his executive orders more explicitly enlarging the authority of the CIA. The original act not only created the CIA, it provides for a director of central intelligence with two hats: one as director of the CIA and the other as director of central intelligence. The similar names cause much confusion.
This arrangement didn't work as intended. The two-hat job turned out to be too big for an individual who necessarily had to spend most of his time directing the CIA and who lacked crucial budget and personnel authority.
Since 1947, scads of agencies and tens of thousands of people have been added to the intelligence community. In 1952, President Truman established the National Security Agency in the Defense Department to centralize the government's code-breaking and code-making activities. It is by far the largest component of the intelligence community - overshadowing the CIA perhaps tenfold.
In 1960, after the Soviets shot down the U-2 spy plane, President Eisenhower established the National Reconnaissance Office to build and operate spy satellites. In 1961, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara established the Defense Intelligence Agency with the thought that it would centralize the uniformed intelligence agencies of the military services. It became simply another layer of bureaucracy.
As a result of these and other additions, the intelligence community now consists of 15 agencies. Their total budget is secret, but is widely thought to be about $40 billion.
The principal obstacles to implementing the 9/11 commission's recommendations are bureaucratic, within the agencies and especially in Congress. Each agency is jealous of its particular role. Congressional committees fiercely defend their jurisdiction and the agencies to which it extends. The most important of these are the armed services committees, because the Defense Department has most of the intelligence agencies and controls up to 85 percent of the community's budget. The judiciary committees feel the same way about the FBI. So do the foreign affairs committees about the State Department.
It is a good sign that the majority and minority leaders of the Senate have jointly appointed a group of 22 senators to try to work out a way to deal with committee jurisdictions. Another good sign is that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas, has introduced his own bill to accomplish much of what the 9/11 commission is after. Senator Roberts suggests breaking the CIA into three parts - collection, analysis, and technical services - all under a director of national intelligence.
All of these should be the subject of hearings, with witnesses drawn not only from government but from academic and business communities as well as interested citizens. It would probably be worthwhile to examine how other countries (for example, Britain and Israel) handle the same problem.
The community ought not to be centralized so much that diversity is lost. The more sources, the better opportunity for getting to the truth, though it may not be self-evident. Analysis also improves with diversity. This gives policymakers the benefit of conflicting views. Trouble arises when policymakers don't want conflicting views, when as in the Bush administration, they look for intelligence not to illuminate a problem but to support a policy. This is another reason to keep the director of national intelligence out of policymaking.
For Congress the goal should be a product that nobody is happy about but that everybody can live with.
• Pat M. Holt is former chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He wrote the book 'Secret Intelligence and Public Policy: A Dilemma of Democracy.'