Senators differ over Pentagon control of intelligence agencies

Top Democrat on Senate Intelligence Committee proposes split control of Defense intelligence organizations in times of war.

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee this week offered differing proposals for how much control a new national intelligence director should have over those intelligence agencies controlled by the Defense Department.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the committee, Friday proposed that during times of war, the planned national intelligence director and the defense secretary should be given equal roles in the management of the intelligence agencies controlled by the Pentagon -- the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office. In the event of disputes between the two officials, the matter would be resolved by the National Security Council and the president.

Rockefeller's proposal was one of a number of intelligence reform measures outlined in a letter sent to Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the committee. The Governmental Affairs Committee is responsible for preparing legislation implementing intelligence reform.

In his letter, Rockefeller stressed the need to maintain a balance between national intelligence needs and the tactical intelligence requirements of battlefield commanders -- a concern often raised by Pentagon officials during congressional hearings on intelligence reform held over the past several weeks.

"Striking this balance requires, as it does now, close coordination between the Pentagon and the intelligence community," Rockefeller wrote. Rockefeller's proposal contrasts sharply with one unveiled earlier this week by the Senate intelligence committee's chairman, Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who would transfer direct control of the NSA, NGA and the DIA human intelligence service from the Pentagon to a deputy national intelligence director. Unlike Rockefeller, Roberts has also proposed converting the three main directorates of the CIA into separate, independent agencies and placing them under the national intelligence director.

Administration officials and lawmakers have met Roberts' proposal with reactions ranging from cool to hostile. Sept. 11 commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, however, said this week there are a "number of areas" of agreement between the panel and Roberts, such as the creation of national intelligence director with full budgetary and personnel authority. While there are some differences, Hamilton said in an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, "they are matters of less importance, probably, than the things we agree on."

Rockefeller, who has been critical of Roberts' proposal, reiterated his opposition Friday.

"While certain aspects of the Roberts legislation have merit, the heart of the proposal is flawed," Rockefeller wrote. "I would suggest that while the intelligence community is plainly in need of significant reform, it is not so fundamentally broken that the current structure be abandoned altogether."

In his letter, Rockefeller also supported giving the new national intelligence director full budgetary and personnel authority over all national intelligence agencies; separating the national intelligence director from the management of the CIA; and the creation of three deputy directors who would also serve as CIA director, defense undersecretary for intelligence and FBI intelligence director.

In addition, Rockefeller supported the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center, as well as national intelligence centers that would be responsible for both collection and analysis on issues such as proliferation -- both of which were recommended by the Sept. 11 commission. Rockefeller also proposed the creation of an intelligence community ombudsman similar to one in place at the CIA, who would address complaints concerning alleged politicization of intelligence; the creation of a "red team" under the national intelligence director to test assumptions made in analyses; and the creation of an intelligence community inspector general's office.

To help improve congressional oversight of intelligence, as called for by the Sept. 11 commission, Rockefeller offered support for providing the Senate and House intelligence committees with both funding appropriation and authorization authority. He also proposed eliminating term limits for intelligence committee members, but opposed reducing membership to between seven to nine lawmakers, as the Sept. 11 panel has suggested.

Noting that the Senate intelligence committee now has 17 members, Rockefeller wrote that "reducing the size of our committee by half would hinder not help oversee what are complex and secretive organizations."

This week, the Senate formed a 22-member working group to examine proposals on improving intelligence and homeland security oversight.