Congressional report highlights debate over intelligence reform

Critical issues facing congressional members working on intelligence reform include which agency should prepare secretive presidential daily briefs and how the National Intelligence Council, which develops classified national intelligence estimates, should be managed, according to a new report.

A recent Congressional Research Service report highlights a debate within Congress over overhauling the U.S. intelligence community and creating a new national intelligence director. The report was obtained and publicized by the Federation of American Scientists last week.

"Establishing a new position of national intelligence director with new legislation will likely involve an assessment of the extent to which analytical responsibilities should be assigned to the new position and how best to ensure that analytical products are accurate and available to policymakers on a timely basis," the report states.

The Senate and House passed differing legislation for intelligence reform in recent weeks. Conferees hope to produce a final intelligence reform package for the president to sign before the Nov. 2 general elections.

The Senate and House both kept the structure of the National Intelligence Council, which has about 100 employees, intact. The Senate, however, said senior NIC analysts should be appointed by, work for and serve at the pleasure of the national intelligence director. The House bill places the NIC under a deputy national intelligence director.

"Some observers argue that placing the NIC in a more subordinate role will tend to diminish the importance of the NID's analytical responsibilities and reduce the flow of direct communications between the NID and senior analysts," the report states. "Others argue that a subordinate official directly responsible for the NIC will be better able to oversee its work than would the NID whose range of responsibilities is far more extensive.

The NIC is responsible for producing national intelligence estimates. But controversy has surrounded recent estimates on Iraq. For example, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded over the summer that most of the key judgments in the CIA's October 2002 estimate of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs were wrong, unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.

CRS said putting the National Intelligence Council directly under the NID would give the director the power to oversee the preparation of estimates and ensure that the views of all agencies are taken into consideration. The downside of that arrangement, however, is that national intelligence officers would work for the NID and be separated from CIA analysts, who work for the director of the CIA. Currently, national intelligence officers and CIA analysts both work for the director of central intelligence.

"Alternatively, the NIC could be assigned to the CIA director," the report adds. "This option would concentrate analytical responsibilities in an agency whose core mission is analysis and encourage close ties between the NIC and working-level analysts, but, arguably, it would not facilitate closer coordination among often-competitive agencies."

Another issue confronting congressional conferees is which agency should prepare secretive presidential daily briefs that go directly to the president and his inner circle, as well as senior executive intelligence briefs that are more broadly disseminated. Those briefs are currently prepared by the CIA's intelligence directorate.

"Nonetheless, should the NID be responsible for daily substantive briefings at the White House rather than the CIA Director, it might be considered appropriate that the NID staff draft the PDB and the SEIB, based on input from the CIA and other agencies," the report states. "Some might argue [however] that close and important links between CIA desk-level analysts and the PDB would be jeopardized should the briefs be prepared outside of the CIA."

The report does not draw any conclusions, but rather outlines the debate for conferees to settle.

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