Policymakers preach patience in intelligence reform

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin on Tuesday hesitated to fully support the immediate creation of a national intelligence post.

A national director "could conceivably lead to some efficiencies in some aspects of intelligence collection and some modest but indefinable improvement in the support those agencies provide to other elements of the government," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But he urged lawmakers to make sure that the possible consolidation of the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office outside of the Defense Department would "help resolve the intelligence-related problems and difficulties we face and not create additional problems."

McLaughlin, meanwhile, called for patience in determining what to change in the intelligence community. "I believe that short, clear line of command and control are required in whatever structure you establish, regardless of what you call its leader," he said.

Intelligence reform will require "flexibility in shifting resources, people and money to respond to shifting priorities," McLaughlin said. Therefore, if a national intelligence director is named, "that individual should have the clear authority to move people and resources and to evaluate the performance of national intelligence agencies and their leaders."

McLaughlin stressed that former CIA Director George Tenet's statement saying it would take five more years for the intelligence community to be fully secure was "misinterpreted." Tenet was "not saying that we are starting now [but that] we probably need about five more years to get to where we need to be," McLaughlin said. "You have to appreciate where we started from."

He also assured members that the CIA is "close to fixing" the problem of getting pertinent information directly to top officials rather than going through the entire chain of command. "Some version of a national counter-terrorism center would help" that goal, he said.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers urged Congress and officials not to "create any institutional barriers" as they move forward. He said lawmakers should proceed cautiously "on any decision that increases centralized control" because that tends to lessen the entrepreneurial spirit seen in the military today.

Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia warned that because of ongoing military operations overseas, "massive dismemberment" at the Defense Department "could result in turbulence that might degrade this level of intelligence so essential" to fighting terrorism. He called for lawmakers to be cautious but to strengthen the system.

Ranking Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan agreed. "We need to proceed urgently but carefully as we consider reforming out intelligence system," he said.

Levin cautioned against politicizing the debate over naming a national intelligence director, however. "Independent and objective intelligence is a matter of vital national importance," he said. "Objective, unvarnished intelligence should inform policy choices; policy should not drive intelligence assessments."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec