Pros and cons of creating country's first intelligence chief

Sunday, July 25, 2004

WASHINGTON -- It won't be easy to decide whether it's appropriate to create a Cabinet-level official to oversee the nation's vast intelligence community. Look no further than former CIA director Jim Woolsey. He is 60 percent in favor and 40 percent against the move recommended by the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I don't think this is one of those issues which is absolutely clear-cut. I think there is a risk of layering and adding an added bureaucracy," he told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. On the other hand, he said, "I believe the job could be done by one individual in ideal circumstances."

The proposal for a single, stronger intelligence chief is not new: A presidential advisory board and an earlier congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks also floated the idea. And two California Democrats in Congress -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jane Harman -- have introduced separate, but similar, legislation to better centralize the intelligence community under one office, intended to improve information sharing, coordination and decision-making.

President Bush has said he is studying the commission's recommendations. But acting CIA director John McLauglin has warned that major structural changes could disrupt the agency's work in the war on terror. Officially, the agency is open to considering any proposed changes.

As with most reforms, there are pros -- and cons.

Today, based on the 1947 National Security Act, the CIA director not only heads his own agency but also oversees the intelligence community, which has grown to 15 agencies. But the director has neither budgetary authority nor day-to-day operational control of the other agencies, most of which are part of the Defense Department.

Bureaucracy worriesOpponents have a long list of reasons why they advise caution. One is that the CIA director's job was created intentionally to insulate it from the politics of policymaking that could intrude if the person sat on the Cabinet.

"A Senate-confirmed intelligence director sitting in the White House would be in the hip pocket of the president," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "That individual would not have the kind of independence you need in that kind of role."

Critics also worry about new layers of staffing and bureaucracy that likely would come with creation of the new job.

"I can guarantee you would have a staff of hundreds in short order," said Lee Strickland, who retired from the CIA in December after 30 years and now teaches at the University of Maryland.

Key congressional intelligence leaders are skeptical -- at a minimum. Senate Intelligence chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., says any changes must be carefully considered.

And House Intelligence chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., said no matter how wonderful the proposal appears, turf wars will interfere. "In Washington, it won't work. It's impractical," said Goss, who has proposed alternate legislation that would give the CIA chief more power.

Still, those who favor the new intelligence chief idea say the current system simply isn't working. Created after the Cold War, when the intelligence community was much smaller, the CIA director's job has grown into a massive undertaking.

"The community's head -- the director of Central Intelligence -- has at least three jobs: running the CIA, coordinating the 15-agency confederation and being the intelligence analyst-in-chief to the president. No one person can do all these things," the Sept. 11 commission said in its final report released last week.

'Who is in charge?'Because of limitations on the CIA director's control over the intelligence community, the commissioners worried that the president ultimately winds up overseeing intelligence -- along with his vast domestic and foreign policy portfolio.

"The answer to the question that I repeatedly asked and numbers of us asked in our hearings -- 'Who is in charge? Who is our quarterback?' -- was almost uniformly the president of the United States," said commission member Jamie Gorelick, a Democrat. "But this is not his full-time job. And it is an impossible situation for that to remain the case."

Advocates for the new position also dispute the idea that it would be too political. They note that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all the military combatant commanders and the existing central intelligence director are appointed by the president.

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