To Fix Intelligence, Give CIA Chief More Authority

Posted June 11, 2004 at 12:43pm

Ever since the moment of George Tenet’s resignation, I have been asked repeatedly who should replace him. Although numerous qualified people could be chosen as director of Central Intelligence, my answer may seem surprising: “Nobody.”

The way the job is currently structured, nobody should take it. Nor, frankly, should anyone want it.

Tenet’s resignation offers the perfect opening to revamp the position and make the next occupant of that position much more effective at leading the intelligence community through the war on terrorism.

Congress, in creating the modern intelligence community a half-century ago, first created the position of “Director of Central Intelligence.” That person is supposed to wear two hats. He is supposed to be director of the CIA — but he is also supposed to head the entire U.S. intelligence community.

That arrangement may have been fine in theory, but in practice it simply has not worked. Today, the CIA is just one of 15 intelligence agencies scattered throughout the government. Many of these agencies are answerable to the Defense Department. Intelligence agencies also operate within the Departments of Justice, State, Energy and Homeland Security.

Since the DCI doesn’t have true authority over the other 14 agencies, the person in that position inevitably focuses on the priorities of his own agency, the CIA.

Yet without a single, effective head of the entire intelligence community, our various agencies have evolved under different sets of rules, varied cultures and distinct databases. Unfortunately, our agencies do not always work effectively to integrate their efforts at collecting raw intelligence against hard targets, or at analyzing that intelligence.

The bipartisan, bicameral joint Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks pointed to this lack of coordination as one of the principal intelligence failures that led to the attacks.

Although the CIA was tracking two of the hijackers, the FBI and CIA didn’t share information about their whereabouts. And while the CIA warned in the Aug. 6 Presidential Daily Briefing that that Osama bin Laden was “determined to strike in the U.S.,” the agency didn’t have information from the FBI suggesting that terrorist operatives might already be here training at American flight schools.

The lack of a strong, integrated intelligence-collection capability also contributed to our mistakes about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs and our failure to penetrate the Iraqi insurgency.

With Tenet out, however, Congress and the administration now have a chance to re-evaluate how to empower the next DCI to make the 15 intelligence agencies work together more effectively. Nine members of the House Intelligence Committee, myself included, have proposed creating a single director of National Intelligence, or DNI, who would be granted greater budgetary and statutory authority over the non-CIA portions of the intelligence community. Our bill is H.R. 4104, the Intelligence Transformation Act.

The DNI’s office would not be a new bureaucratic entity. We are not proposing creation of a new department with a big new headquarters or new uniform arm badges for the work force. Instead, this legislation would create a “virtual reorganization,” in which the collection and analysis efforts of all 15 agencies would be coordinated under the direction of a DNI.

This fusion is modeled after similar Congressional reforms of the military mandated by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. In that legislation, Congress reshaped our military’s war-fighting capabilities so that our four armed services — the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — had to work together across services to become one “joint” fighting force.

Our bill also addresses concerns by the Defense Department, which has opposed prior proposals for reforms modeled on a DNI. This new approach allows the DNI to move money to address key problems, but it would not strip budget-execution authority from the Pentagon.

Creating a DNI is neither a Democratic nor a Republican idea. In addition to being the first recommendation of the bipartisan Joint Inquiry into 9/11, similar legislation sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) has the support of two key Republicans, Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

With Tenet’s departure, the stars seem better aligned for reform than ever. The 9/11 Commission will be issuing its report next month, and the president has asked Congress to provide ideas now for how to fix U.S. intelligence.

This reform is urgent. The terrorists will not wait until after November to plan their attacks against us, nor will they check our party registration before launching those attacks against us.

So, who should replace George Tenet? Someone empowered by Congress to lead the entire intelligence community.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.