THE MAGAZINE

20-20 Spy Sight

By Marta Roberts

First step. While the bill authorizes resources to increase the number of federal analysts and collection agents and calls on the DNI to set standards for collection and analysis, it is largely a top-down reorganization that may not achieve the level of change required, say critics like David Rothkopf, senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. The government must "find a way to start dealing with the core issues within these agencies, changing the culture, putting a high emphasis on finding objective truths and giving policy makers the information when they need it," he says.

The bill is a "good first step," nonetheless, Rothkopf says. As one congressman said during the House floor debate over the bill, it advances the ball down the field toward the goal of homeland security, even if it doesn't score a touchdown.

That's a view widely shared by intelligence professionals, even though they see flaws in the new law. Former Director of the CIA, Admiral Stansfield Turner, for example, agrees that the intelligence reform bill was on the right track when it moved from having the head of the CIA also be the director of all the intelligence agencies within the government. The newly created DNI "will not be running any agency and will, therefore, hopefully, listen to all of them," says Turner.

"Pre-9-11 the Director [of Central Intelligence] wasn't listening to the diverse views because he was concentrating on running the CIA.... Whereas this new DNI will not have an agency of his own to listen to and give preference to," he says.

Further, the new law gives the DNI "authority to be sure that there is adequate exchange of information--as there wasn't before 9-11--between the various agencies," says Turner. But the most difficult problem the new DNI will face is "to get these 15 agencies to set aside their own parochial turf considerations and do what is best for intelligence," he notes.

To encourage the development of a truly national strategy on intelligence, the bill also establishes a Joint Intelligence Community Council chaired by the DNI and composed of the secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, plus the Attorney General and others the President may designate.

But the DNI's powers to get the intelligence agencies to work together toward any unified objectives set by the council has its limits. For example, the Joint Military Intelligence Program is not part of the newly consolidated National Intelligence Program that the DNI oversees, although the DNI "shall participate in" and consult with Defense with regard to military intelligence budgets and use of resources.

The military's remaining autonomy is seen as a weakness by some observers. Turner says that under the bill "the various collection systems like satellite photographs and electronic listening are too much under the control of the Defense Department."

This criticism is significant given that during his tenure at the CIA, Turner led the intelligence community in adapting to a new era of real-time photographic satellites, forming the basis for the current system. "In the Cold War," he says, "there may have been a perverse logic to the Defense Department controlling 80 percent of the intelligence assets because the threat was a military threat. In the war on terrorism, there's not an excuse for the military being that dominant in our intelligence because they're only part of the solution, and somebody with a national perspective, not a military perspective...should be in charge of that 80 percent."

Another former director of the CIA, James Woolsey, disagrees with Turner's assessment, however. "The military was not the problem pre 9-11," he says.

Regardless of who controls the military intelligence gathering, the government needs to think more strategically than operationally about intelligence, says Ernest May, Charles Warren Professor of American history at Harvard. The reorganization does move intelligence in that direction with the creation of the NCTC, which presents "a model for the way in which the government might organize itself to deal with a variety of problems," he says.

The bill extends that model to weapons of mass destruction by also establishing a National Counter Proliferation Center that will be the primary organization in the government for analyzing and integrating all intelligence pertaining to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The bill also gives the DNI the authority to establish other intelligence centers focused on new threats as the need arises.

Budget. While the bill does establish a strong DNI with a role in the budget process, it does not endow the position with the clear and absolute budget authority the 9-11 Commission proposed. In fact, because the issue was contentious, the bill "doesn't really settle the question of how the budget would be developed, nor does it really settle the question of what are the ultimate managerial responsibilities of the new director," says May.

Turner agrees that the bill is not "firm enough in regard to budgetary authority." However, he says that the president has the power to imbue the DNI with the requisite authority to ensure effectiveness, regardless of who determines the budget for, say, spy satellites.

Others are skeptical. "Any time we create csars who are essentially bureaucratically orphaned from any control of any large organization, in the past there was not a real strong reason to think they [would] become powerful in Washington budget wars," says Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Although O'Hanlon acknowledges that the new DNI will have substantial authority, he says "it's very hard for these people who are outside of agencies to make a huge difference operationally and in the details."

Career clout. Though O'Hanlon sees the DNI as potentially orphaned, with no agency as its own, the position is intended to be viewed by all agencies as the ultimate boss. In that context, an important aspect to the new DNI is that "now there is one person who will have something to do with the careers of everyone in intelligence," says May.

The career issue is key, says Rothkopf, adding that the government should work toward "jointness" where "people who work for different agencies are trained in other agencies and can't advance in their careers unless they have worked in different agencies."

With that goal in mind, the new law calls on the DNI, in consultation with the heads of the other agencies, to "make service in more than one element of the intelligence community a condition of promotion to such positions within the intelligence community as the Director shall specify."

Similarly, another provision addresses the need for integrating the training of agents across agencies. It calls for cross-disciplinary education and joint training exercises.

At the same time, the act directs the FBI to continue to follow a dual criminal justice/national intelligence mission and to build its domestic intelligence collection capabilities by developing agents, analysts, linguists, and surveillance specialists.

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