Barely three weeks after the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania left 258 people dead and more than 5,000 wounded, Attorney General Janet Reno received a classified briefing by senior officials in the FBI's International Counterterrorism Operations Center. The FBI had sent roughly 300 FBI agents to Africa to work on the case and were already on the verge of making their first arrests. They also had intelligence indicating that the bombings were the work of a terrorist network run by Saudi-born Islamic zealot Osama bin Laden.
Reno was insistent that the CIA be fully apprised of the FBI's findings, according to sources present at the classified briefing on the 5th floor of the FBI's headquarters. Reno was so concerned about CIA-FBI cooperation that she broke in abruptly during the briefing to again stress the point. You have to make sure, Reno repeated, that the CIA knows about this.
At that point, the deputy director of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division spoke up and said: "Madam Attorney General, I'm from the CIA. I assure you the agency is fully aware of this intelligence." What Reno didn't realize was that her No. 2 official for counterterrorism was in fact a CIA agent, and that over in Langley, Va., the CIA's No. 2 official for counterterrorism was an FBI agent. The two rival outfits had already swallowed their pride, ingested the message of agency cooperation that had been tossed at them for years by Congress, and allowed previously hostile agents into their midst.
More recently, FBI and CIA counterterrorism experts worked together to thwart another suspected bin Laden bombing plot that was timed to coincide with year 2000 celebrations, and which targeted many hundreds and perhaps thousands of Americans for injury and death. Indeed, after years of resisting such cooperation-as much for bureaucratic reasons as for constitutional ones-the CIA, FBI, and now the Defense Department believe that the federal government must reorganize itself in a more collaborative way if it is to successfully combat new threats from terrorists, spies, cybersleuths, and international criminal groups who have few ties to foreign governments.
Most significant, senior officials of the CIA, FBI, Defense Department, and National Security Council have worked quietly for more than a year to draft a plan to broaden cross-agency cooperation to encompass virtually the government's entire national security apparatus. Called "Counter-Intelligence 21," or CI-21 to insiders, the plan, which includes a new governmentwide counterintelligence czar, has been undergoing finishing touches after input from the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee.
The executive order should be ready for President Clinton's signature in coming weeks. If successful, the reforms will institutionalize a level of cooperation never before seen between the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon. In the process, CI-21 may also force lawmakers and the American public to rethink long-accepted notions of what constitutes national security, as well as the once-clear boundaries between domestic law enforcement, foreign intelligence gathering, and defense preparedness.
"Everyone who works this problem has quickly realized that the old paradigm of the threats to U.S. national security-hostile nations and their intelligence services-is far too narrow of a definition in the post-Cold War era," said John McGaffin, a longtime CIA operative and FBI consultant who spearheaded the CI-21 effort. "There are countless potential bad guys capable of doing us significant harm."
McGaffin also said that during the CI-21 drafting process, the various agency officials discovered "this terrible disconnect" in which the makers of national security policy in the White House and State and Defense departments simply were not talking to the counterintelligence and counterterrorism communities. More important, the spies and counterspies found it hard to do their work because the policy-makers had not laid out new definitions of national security. No longer is national security simply about protecting armies, navies, and military secrets-it's about defending the banking system, the Internet, and new technologies. Said McGaffin: "Because the policy community has not defined or prioritized the `crown jewels' of American prosperity and national security, we in the intelligence community cannot tell if those assets are being threatened or adequately protected."
A Hidden Menace
Most Americans perceive the United States as a nation at peace abroad and prosperous and secure at home. A globe-spanning U.S. military helps keep the lid on conflicts around the world, no superpower rival appears yet on the horizon, and the U.S. economy cruises along in hyperdrive with the help of Information Age technologies.
Yet, select lawmakers and intelligence experts are troubled. They remember the terrorist bombings aimed at U.S. citizens in such places as the World Trade Center in New York in 1993, the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996, and the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. They're aware of just how narrowly the United States averted similar bombings during millennium celebrations in January. They've seen classified intelligence showing that numerous terrorist organizations, including the loose network linked to Osama bin Laden, are now actively seeking chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons of terrible lethality, and these groups are seriously contemplating their use.
Nor is it difficult for these analysts to see a malevolent hand behind "Moonlight Maze," a massive cyberassault on U.S. computer networks that was first detected in 1998 and that the FBI has traced to Russia. The experts also know that the eyes and ears of the U.S. intelligence community went dead in January, when computers at the eavesdropping National Security Agency crashed unexpectedly. They know the details behind what many consider a botched counterintelligence investigation of Wen Ho Lee at the Los Alamos national laboratory in New Mexico. They ponder the unexplained disappearance of top-secret computer data at Los Alamos and the U.S. State Department during the past year. They haven't forgotten that unknown accomplices of accused Russian spy Stanislav Gusev, who was expelled from the United States in December, were able to implant a secret listening device into the wall of a supposedly secure State Department conference room near the office of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Intelligence experts say these newer, more insidious threats to national security are just as real as the threat of a conventional military attack on the United States or its interests. "As we face a new century, we face a new world where nation-states remain the most important and powerful players, but where multinational corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and even individuals can have a dramatic impact," said CIA Director George Tenet in testimony earlier this year before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "It is against that backdrop that I want to describe the realities of our national security environment in the first year of the 21st century-where technology has enabled, driven, or magnified the threat to us; where age-old resentments threaten to spill over into open violence; and where a growing perception of our so-called `hegemony' has become a lightning rod for the disaffected."
Taking those warnings to heart, a spate of congressional committees and independent panels has strongly criticized the federal government in recent months for failing to adequately adapt to the changing threats. The critiques, which recommend many different solutions, are varied and disjointed. But intelligence oversight committees on Capitol Hill agree that federal responsibility for counterintelligence and counterterrorism is too divided among a hodgepodge of agencies that lack direction and accountability. In their view, law enforcement, defense, and intelligence agencies too often seem more interested in defending their turf than in coordinating their efforts and sharing sensitive intelligence.
A congressionally mandated report by the National Commission on Terrorism that was released in June, for instance, faulted both the CIA and FBI for being "overly risk averse" and insufficiently aggressive in investigating terrorist organizations. "We've found that in many areas, the federal government is stymied by bureaucratic and cultural obstacles to the quick and broad collection of important intelligence," said L. Paul Bremer III, a former career diplomat who chaired the commission.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, citing the FBI's lack of adequate focus on new threats, recently approved spending $23 million to fund a new domestic counterterrorism "czar" at the highest levels of the Justice Department, although the idea is opposed by the Clinton Administration. Meanwhile, in July, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill authored by Rep. Tillie K. Fowler, R-Fla., that would create a six-person Council of Terrorism Preparedness, chaired by the President, to eliminate bureaucratic confusion and wasteful overlap in preparing the nation against terrorist attack. Not to be outdone, the House Select Committee on Intelligence recently released its own scathing assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, faulting it for poor organization and calling for a more "corporate" approach to intelligence gathering that includes the entire intelligence and national security complex.
Administration officials note that much has already been done to address these criticisms. In 1998, for instance, the Justice Department and the FBI created an intra-agency National Defense Preparedness Office to coordinate government efforts to prepare for terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction. They also created a National Infrastructure Protection Center at FBI headquarters to coordinate efforts to protect government and private computer networks from cyberattacks. The Pentagon's National Security Agency recently announced "Project Trailblazer," an initiative to develop a 21st-century "signals intelligence" system that can crack new encryption software, hard-to-tap fiber-optic cables, and cellular phone transmissions.
Meanwhile, the FBI's focus on counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations has led to an almost fivefold increase in FBI intelligence officers in the past eight years (from 224 in 1992 to 1,025 today), and a corresponding but classified increase in FBI field agents, according to a report released in August by a Syracuse University research center.
What is lacking, say national security experts-echoing the congressional critique-is a central strategy and focused leadership to make sense of the new threats and to coordinate an overall government response. The Administration's answer is the new Counter-Intelligence 21 initiative. It would create a national counterintelligence executive with independent resources and staff to act as a focal point and conduit between policy-makers, Congress, and private industry on the one hand, and the intelligence, law enforcement, and defense communities on the other. This counterintelligence czar would be appointed by, and answer to, a National Counter-Intelligence Board of Directors composed of the head of the FBI, the deputy director of the CIA, and the deputy secretary of Defense. He or she would closely coordinate policy with a senior steering group drawn from relevant government agencies.
The key function of the national counterintelligence executive (or NCIX in government-speak) would be to first develop a national counterintelligence strategy identifying and prioritizing the keys to American prosperity and security. The executive would then coordinate the efforts of the intelligence, defense, and law enforcement communities to protect those assets from conventional and unconventional threats.
CI-21, however, is not a revolutionary change. In many ways, it simply advances-albeit significantly-an evolution that began in the mid-1990s when circumstances forced the CIA and FBI to begin abandoning their own long rivalry and history of animosity. "CI-21 is a manifestation of a process that began five or six years ago, when we all began to realize that the threats to U.S. security were changing in a way that our traditional organizations and structures couldn't match," McGaffin said. "Globalization and technology were lowering traditional boundaries between what constitutes an international or domestic threat, and terrorists, drug cartels, spies, and hackers were all leaping those boundaries with impunity."
For the first time in their history, said McGaffin, the CIA and FBI began to realize in the mid-1990s that their missions overlapped significantly in numerous areas. "For instance, is counterterrorism a law enforcement or intelligence mission?" The answer is both, he said. "That doesn't mean spies should get involved in law enforcement, or FBI agents in spying. It does mean that both agencies had to increasingly start leveraging one another."
As is often the case, a catastrophe was required first to blast through the cultural and bureaucratic barriers that separated the CIA and FBI. That event was the arrest of a former high-ranking CIA operative and Russian mole named Aldrich Ames.
Cities on Separate Hills
Many intelligence professionals still recall where they were on Feb. 21, 1994, when FBI agents pulled over a Jaguar driven by Ames and arrested the senior CIA operative. Ames had been the counterintelligence branch chief in the CIA's Russia Division. But as it turns out, he had been acting as a Soviet and then Russian mole for eight years, selling Moscow the names of every important Soviet military and intelligence officer working secretly for the United States. The Soviets executed 10 of these officers based on Ames' information, and replaced them with double agents who for many years passed false information to the CIA that severely distorted Soviet capabilities and intentions. Ames represented the worst case of betrayal and the most profound intelligence failure in CIA history, and it devastated the morale of the entire intelligence community.
Nearly as shocking as the scope of the betrayal was the fact that it had continued for six years after Ames first drew suspicion for his grand style of living and well-known drinking binges. During that time, senior CIA officials steadfastly refused to believe, even in the light of growing evidence, that one of their own senior officials could be a double agent for the Soviet Union. CIA officials thus resisted sharing their concerns or asking for help from FBI counterespionage experts.
"For a very long time, the CIA and FBI had found ways to talk past each other and refuse to cooperate with one another. We had built cities on separate hills, and that wasn't very smart," a senior CIA official said. "The dramatic events surrounding the Ames investigation helped us recognize how much was to be gained by cooperating with the FBI. But it meant overcoming decades of mistrust."
The scope of the Ames scandal, however, irretrievably changed the dynamic between the two agencies. "The fallout from the Ames case was the key catalyst to change. It became our Tailhook scandal, because afterward nobody could argue against reform," said a senior CIA counterintelligence expert, noting that a number of the post-Ames reforms called for placing senior FBI officials inside CIA headquarters at Langley. "I mean prior to Ames, the idea of having an FBI official inside CIA headquarters running counterespionage would have been heresy! And for the first few years, it was definitely a shotgun marriage."
With congressional outrage over Ames hanging over the White House's head, then-National Security Council official George Tenet penned in 1994 Presidential Decision Directive 24, a document that instituted the post-Ames reforms. The directive placed a senior FBI official in charge of counterespionage-the spy vs. spy operations-inside CIA headquarters in Langley, and established a National Counterintelligence Center at the CIA-run by an FBI official-to take on the broader mission of protecting American secrets and assets. Tenet went to the CIA in 1995 as deputy director, where both he and Director John Deutch were reform-minded leaders. Later, when Tenet became director of the CIA himself, he helped ensure that not only the letter but also the spirit of the post-Ames reforms would be embraced.
"I think the Ames case was the jumping off point in taking cooperation between the FBI and CIA seriously, because it proved that we could no longer tolerate petty bureaucratic jealousy and turf wars in dealing with threats to American security," Tenet said in an interview. "And from the very beginning, we consciously sought to institutionalize the reforms at all working levels so that they would become steeped in our culture and not dependent on transient personalities. We wanted people to understand that, when it came to dealing with these transnational threats, the fortunes and efforts of both agencies would rise and fall together."
To keep the momentum for cooperation going forward as the Ames scandal subsided, both Deutch and FBI Director Louis Freeh instituted a series of weekly deputies' meetings that became known as the "Gang of Eight" sessions. Led on the CIA side by then-Deputy Director Tenet, and including on the FBI side Deputy Director for National Security Robert "Bear" Bryant, the Gang of Eight explored new avenues for teamwork between their two agencies, reporting once a month to the agency directors. Before long, the Gang of Eight became the strongest proponents within their respective agencies for an entirely new relationship between the CIA and FBI. Their goal was to respect the significant legal and statutory distinctions between law enforcement and espionage, but to eliminate the "arms length" attitude that had severely hamstrung cooperative FBI and CIA efforts in the past.
In an effort to allay deep-seated suspicions among the rank and file in both agencies, officials convened a meeting in Rome in 1996 for all the overseas FBI legal attaches and CIA station chiefs in Europe and the Middle East. Participants were encouraged to air their differences and gripes. They did. They clashed openly, as CIA officials played to type as tweedy Georgetown intellectuals and FBI agents came across as blue-collar beat cops.
"From our point of view, it seemed at first that FBI legal attaches ranked somewhere just above chauffeur in the embassy hierarchy," said one senior CIA official who was present. "They had very little international experience or foreign language capability, and their main concern seemed to be fugitive bank robbers. It was almost embarrassing. The CIA station chief, on the other hand, is a pretty powerful position in the embassy, and he often serves as the ambassador's point man on major strategic issues. So there was initially this cultural dichotomy, where you felt that the CIA guys would be going to the opera after the meeting, while the FBI guys were going to see the latest shoot-'em-up movie. However, by the end of the summit-after a great Italian meal and lots of wine-there was a good meeting of the minds. Even today, when we refer to the improved cooperation between the agencies, we talk about the `Spirit of Rome.' "
One of the charter members of the Gang of Eight was then-CIA General Counsel Jeffrey Smith, who had served as general counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee when it passed the landmark Goldwater-Nichols defense reforms of 1986. One of the key lessons of that successful reform effort-largely aimed at overcoming rivalries among the four armed services-was to require those in uniform to serve "joint" tours with the other services. To attract the best and brightest to those joint tours, Goldwater-Nichols also made the tours a prerequisite to promotion and thus career enhancers. In a somewhat less formal fashion, Smith, McGaffin, and other members of the Gang of Eight set out to mirror that success by selecting the CIA and FBI's best people for joint assignments, and then promoting them up the chain of command to institutionalize a new level of cooperation.
"Having worked on Goldwater-Nichols, I definitely tried to apply those lessons by finding ways to task our best CIA officials to FBI headquarters as a `joint assignment,' and vice versa," said Smith, now a partner in the Washington law firm of Arnold & Porter. "We also increasingly established joint FBI-CIA task forces to go after specific targets. That was an important move, because in their enthusiasm and desire to get results, the teams learned to work together and break down institutional barriers, whether they were going after terrorists, international criminal groups, drug cartels, or foreign intelligence operatives."
One area lent itself naturally to common cause between the FBI and CIA-international terrorist operations targeting U.S. citizens or interests. The United States has followed a strategy in these cases of bringing perpetrators to justice before U.S. courts, with the possibility of tough sentences in U.S. prisons or even the death penalty. That goal requires close and careful cooperation between the CIA operatives responsible for surveillance and infiltration of foreign terrorist groups and FBI agents tasked with making arrests and gathering evidence that can be used in open court. Indeed, the synergistic and often-successful efforts of the CIA and FBI in the realm of counterterrorism over the past five years largely laid the foundation and provided the momentum for the reforms embodied in Counter-Intelligence 21.
The Counterterrorism Model
When FBI agent Dale Watson received a call from Deputy Director Bryant, asking him to consider taking a job as the deputy director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, he didn't have to think long about his reply: Thanks, but no thanks.
"I basically told him that I didn't know or like those people, and that I liked my current job just fine," said Watson, now the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division. Given the "out of sight, out of mind" nature of the FBI bureaucracy, Watson knew that such assignments were also infamous for stalling careers. Bryant assured him, however, that the rules were changing, and the next time he called Watson about the CIA job, he wasn't asking, but telling him to take it. "And without a doubt, that time at the CIA turned into one of the best assignments I ever had," Watson said. "While it was a steep learning curve at first, and I encountered pockets of resistance to my being there, we all began to see the tremendous value to both agencies of that kind of cross-pollination and transparency in terms of our counterterrorism operations."
Early on, so much internal skepticism greeted the program to swap deputy directors at the FBI and CIA counterterrorism centers that insiders informally referred to the swap as the "hostage exchange program." CIA officials worried that sensitive intelligence would find its way into open court proceedings, compromising the agency's sacrosanct "sources and methods." Closer coordination with the FBI would also undoubtedly attract the attention of civil libertarians concerned that the CIA was crossing the red line barring the agency from spying on Americans. For their part, FBI officials worried that closer cooperation would taint them overseas because of the CIA's reputation for cutting legal corners and cloak-and-dagger shenanigans.
What neither side could deny, however, was the obvious synergy of the counterterrorism partnership. The FBI gained insight not only into the CIA's vast overseas network, but also into the operations of friendly intelligence services that often cooperated secretly with the CIA. The CIA gained a partner who could use sensitive intelligence to head off a planned terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and, most important, bring perpetrators to justice.
"I help run America's spy service, but if I believe my job is finished after I've collected that intelligence, I should be fired," a senior CIA official said. "In working with the FBI, we found ways to ensure that the intelligence we gathered was used by those who need it most. And what's made the cooperation so successful is the FBI's ability to set up `chains of custody' and other means to make sure they gather needed evidence in a way that doesn't put our sources at risk. So we've put most of those concerns to rest. That's not to say the relationship is perfect. We still disagree sometimes, but now when we disagree we just get on the phone with one another and work it through."
The proof of that cooperation, according to officials, is the fingerprints of both the FBI and CIA on a number of high-profile counterterrorism cases in recent years. In one of the most sensational examples, FBI and CIA agents in 1997 tracked down Mir Aimal Kansi, the gunman who killed two CIA employees in a 1993 attack outside the main gate of the CIA's headquarters in Virginia, and snatched him during a daring raid in Pakistan. In the foot-stomping celebration at Langley following the operation, CIA officials noted approvingly that some of the loudest cheers came from the FBI agents involved.
CIA-FBI cooperation was also critical to the successful apprehension and prosecution of those involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; in the 1993 apprehension of Omar Ali Rezaq for the hijacking of an Egypt Air flight in which 58 people died; in the 1998 arrest of Mohammed Rashid for the 1982 bombing of a Pan Am flight; and in the 1996 apprehension of Tsutomu Shirosaki for a rocket attack against the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.
"The Shirosaki case was a pretty typical international fugitive case," said the FBI's Watson. "We had an old indictment and arrest warrant on him, and the CIA developed information that he was in `X' country. After we made sure that the case was good and witnesses still in place, the CIA worked with the host country and facilitated us going over and picking him up. If our efforts were still fragmented, and we hadn't learned to coordinate with the CIA, we would never have been able to get that guy back to the United States."
Watson also credits close FBI-CIA collaboration in the investigation into the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. This joint effort quickly traced the attacks back to the terrorist network of bin Laden. Within 21 days of the bombings, the first suspects were behind bars. Since July 1998, FBI-CIA counterterrorism operations have apprehended and prosecuted more than two dozen suspected terrorists, more than half of whom are associates of bin Laden's organization.
Bin Laden's complicity is also suspected in the Y2K terrorist operation, which was thwarted by what FBI and CIA officials consider perhaps the most successful pre-emptive counterterrorism operation to date. First alerted to the planned attacks last September, both agencies cooperated with foreign intelligence and police services to disrupt terrorist cells in eight countries, with arrests made in the United States, Jordan, Pakistan, and Canada.
"I can guarantee you that the millennium operation was an example where the cooperative counterterrorism system now in place was directly responsible for saving hundreds, and possibly even thousands, of American lives," said a senior CIA counterterrorism expert. "Several tons of explosives were confiscated, as were well-designed plans with specific targets identified to kill the maximum number of Americans in as bloody and high-profile fashion as possible for the sake of the CNN cameras. This was an operation designed to shock the United States away from its geopolitical goals in the Middle East."
Not everyone is sanguine, however, about the new spirit of cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Although CIA agents are still barred from spying on Americans and engaging in domestic intelligence gathering, some watchdog groups are concerned about the blurring of traditional barriers between FBI and CIA operations. Some of those firewalls were put in place in the mid-1970s after a congressional investigation headed by former Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, found that the CIA had illegally spied on political dissidents in the United States.
"I don't think you can point to any terrible scandal that has resulted from the closer cooperation between the FBI and CIA, but the once clear division of labor between them is beginning to blur in the realms of counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and counternarcotics," said John Pike, a defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, an independent watchdog group in Washington. "That raises some yellow flags. The two agencies work under very different sets of principles. Essentially, the FBI is constrained by constitutional protections and dedicated to gathering evidence and enforcing the law. The CIA specializes in stealing secrets, skirting the law, and not getting caught. If they're going to cooperate more, someone needs to pay very careful attention that those distinctions in how they operate don't get blurred as well."
But architects of the CI-21 initiative are not likely to retreat now. Indeed, the new counterintelligence plan seeks to enlist Pentagon intelligence officials. "The intent behind CI-21 is to bring the defense and national security community into the same kind of theoretical construct that we developed for the FBI and CIA in counterterrorism," McGaffin said. "We wanted to expand that interagency cross-pollination and commonality of purpose into the broader realm of counterintelligence."
A Counterintelligence Czar
On a flight back to Washington after a cyberwarfare conference in Texas in 1998, the FBI's Bryant had a lengthy discussion with then-Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre about "Moonlight Maze"-the most pervasive cyberassault ever on the U.S. national computer network. During that electronic invasion-ultimately traced to Moscow-intruders systematically raided hundreds of essential but unclassified computer systems used by the Pentagon, NASA, the Energy Department, and several universities. "It was as if the Russians were coming into the Pentagon every night and measuring the curtains in all the offices, and we did not know why or if anything of importance was taken," said a knowledgeable intelligence source.
Largely as a result of the discussions, Bryant and Hamre began organizing twice-monthly meetings of senior officials from the Defense Department, FBI, CIA, and the National Security Council, essentially expanding the "Gang of Eight" to include the leaders of other agencies responsible for U.S. national security. Although the initial meetings focused on the issue of cyberattacks, the participants soon realized that their respective agencies were facing a host of new and unconventional threats for which they were unprepared and poorly organized to counter. Those meetings and the interagency concerns they uncovered launched the Counter-Intelligence 21 initiative.
"Moonlight Maze did help convince me that we needed a new structure that would allow the national security community to coordinate and work together better, because I was confronted by a problem that I lacked the legal authority to fix on my own," said Hamre, now the president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an independent think tank in Washington. The Defense Department is barred from conducting surveillance or investigations of civilians inside U.S. borders, he said, while the law enforcement community lacks many of the tools to investigate outside the United States. "These borders of responsibility are deeply embedded in American government, yet they are increasingly irrelevant in a more globalized, interconnected world," Hamre said. "Essentially, Counter-Intelligence 21 is an effort to bridge those internal divides in government in a way that protects Americans from the bad guys while still ensuring their constitutional rights. That's why I made signing off on CI-21 literally my last act as deputy director of Defense."
It's not yet clear whether the CI-21 reforms will work. Unless the new counterintelligence czar has the full backing of the heads of the CIA, FBI, and the Defense Department and real influence on budgetary decisions, he or she may fall short on bureaucratic clout. Proponents fear the reforms might yet get watered down as Clinton Administration officials prepare to leave office. Nor is it clear whether CI-21 will be considered an adequate answer to congressional concerns, or whether it will conflict with the lawmakers' idea of a domestic counterterrorism czar. "I fully support CI-21, but there are a lot of czars and czarinas running around Washington, and that runs the risk of future fights over bureaucratic fiefdoms," said Smith, a former CIA general counsel. "Over time, I suspect we'll see an emerging pattern of czars or viceroys coordinating their interagency activities whenever these missions intersect."
The new counterintelligence executive will ultimately be judged by his or her ability to anticipate and limit new threats to U.S. national security. A counterintelligence czar might have predicted that China would target the nuclear secrets contained at the national weapons laboratories, if he understood that China had aspirations for a nuclear, blue-water navy, yet was unwilling to risk international isolation by violating the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. Or he might have argued successfully that Russian spy Stanislav Gusev be used to disseminate disinformation or learn the Russians' true intentions, instead of being arrested quickly and expelled. Or a counterintelligence czar, aware that the Middle East peace process was entering a critical stage and that terrorist groups opposed to it might be looking to derail a U.S.-brokered deal, might have anticipated the Y2K operation even earlier.
"The general premise behind CI-21 is to try to determine what are America's true equities, and then to extend this interagency cooperation in a systematic way to try to better protect those assets and deter acts of espionage that target them," said the CIA's Tenet. "We can no longer afford to focus our counterintelligence efforts only after an incident has sparked a full criminal case, because at that point it's too late. The damage has been done."