Intelligence reform false start

While Republican members of the House quarrel among themselves and with President Bush about overhauling the intelligence community, CIA Director Porter Goss is busy remaking that agency. Mr. Goss has told CIA employees to "support the administration and its policies."

This is not how the intelligence community got us through earlier wars, notably in Korea and Vietnam. Previous directors of central intelligence (DCIs) were resolute in removing themselves from policy discussions, let alone policy decisions. Richard Helms, who was DCI during most of the Vietnam War, later described President Johnson as having a "remarkable ability ... when he finally realized that the facts were right and had been accurately presented and that his conception was wrong, to simply swallow and accept what you had told him and not refer to it any more."

By all reports, Mr. Bush is conspicuously lacking in that ability. He simply sees the world differently.

It should be noted that in the same message to CIA employees quoted above, Goss also told them, "We provide intelligence as we see it - and let facts alone speak to the policymaker." This is different from supporting the administration's policies; it is taking no position at all on those policies.

When people in the government talk about reporting intelligence, they mean reporting intelligence analysis - that is, their best estimate of the meaning of the bare facts collected by the CIA and other agencies. As demonstrated by the experience with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush has a strong, perhaps irresistible, urge to interpret the facts to fit his conception.

If this is what Goss means by supporting the administration's policies, then he is putting us on the road to ruin.

On the other hand, if he means simply not opposing those policies in public, then he is describing the way a well-run government should be managed.

The point is to keep the CIA and the intelligence community generally out of policymaking. Yielding to pressure, or resisting it, to shape the interpretation of data one way or another is not a sign of loyalty or disloyalty to an administration. On the contrary, it is the worst disservice an analyst can render a president.

The intelligence reorganization bill was killed by the Speaker of the House on the day it had been expected to pass. The Speaker did this because two important Republican members of the House declared their opposition to the bill. These were Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Hunter is opposed to the bill because it would reduce the influence of the Defense Department and increase the influence of the yet-to-be-created director of national intelligence over the roughly 80 percent of the intelligence community that is in the Defense Department. This includes the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps intelligence services.

The dispute involves more than turf; it involves the difference between two obscure bureaucratic acronyms, NFIP (National Foreign Intelligence Program) and TIARA (Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities). TIARA is intelligence that a military commander needs to fight a battle (how many insurgents are in the next town down the road?), and it is the domain of the uniformed services. NFIP is just about everything else (what's next in Ukraine?).

The fear in the Defense Department is that the new national director of intelligence would use his budgetary powers to shortchange tactical intelligence.

However, real budgetary authority lies in the Office of Management and Budget, an agency in the White House totally at the bidding of the president.

As head of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FBI, Mr. Sensenbrenner has a legitimate parochial interest in the reorganization bill; but that is not the basis of his opposition. He opposes the bill because it doesn't deal with illegal immigration. Neither can it reasonably be expected to, any more than an immigration bill could be expected to deal with intelligence.

The final irony of this contorted story is that on the day Speaker J. Dennis Hastert killed the intelligence bill, there were almost certainly votes available in the House to have passed it, but some of them would have been from Democrats. Mr. Hastert didn't want to be beholden to Democrats. With Bush strongly supporting the bill (he says), this is not a good start on reaching out for bipartisan cooperation in a second term.

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.'

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