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Intelligence chief faces difficult task, lawmaker says

The nation's new intelligence director must work to coordinate disparate federal agencies, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday.

"It's so important to have one boss" overseeing U.S. intelligence operations, Rep. C.A. (Dutch) Ruppersberger, D-Md., said at a summit sponsored by the Center for Homeland and Global Security.

President Bush last month nominated former U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte to become the first national intelligence director. Should Negroponte, who most recently served as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, be confirmed, he would have a "tall order" to fill, Ruppersberger said. The congressman met Negroponte during a trip to Iraq and said he "seems like the type of person who can pull people together."

That diplomacy will come in handy when dealing with those who did not fully back the creation of the post, like the Defense Department and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Ruppersberger said. Negroponte is "going to have to stand up to Rumsfeld" in order to "break down stovepipes and connect the dots" of U.S. intelligence.

Ruppersberger praised Bush for eventually backing creation of the post, despite initial reluctance, and for giving the position budgetary authority. However, he criticized Bush for proposing to make a majority of his fiscal 2006 intelligence funding a supplemental part of the base budget.

"A supplemental is for unforeseen" obstacles, Ruppersberger said. "The war against al Qaeda is not unforeseen." Such a tactic would not allow government contractors to plan for the future if they are always waiting until the last minute for funding numbers, he said.

Ruppersberger also criticized the CIA, which was "correctly blamed for the intelligence failures that led to" the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said. The problem, however, dates to intelligence budget cuts that started with former President Carter and intelligence officials are just now "trying to play catch up." Ruppersberger also said "political interference" is a factor.

He called for a decrease in the backlog of security clearances. Of the 3.2 million people who currently have clearances, about 650,000 are from the private sector, while 420,000 clearances are currently on hold. "We need to demand results," he said, but a better question might be whether 3.2 million people really need clearances.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Texas Republican who is now a senior policy adviser for DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, said the preservation of personal liberties is of the utmost importance when addressing intelligence.

He slammed the 2001 anti-terrorism law known as the USA PATRIOT Act as one of the more scary legislative processes he has known. "There's nothing more frightening than a legislative body in a panic," he said of Congress' hurried nature in clearing the bill. Technology sometimes gives the "opportunity to transgress against people's ... liberties," he said. He would be willing, however, to slightly risk security for the advancement of liberty and "our dignity."

"It's an exciting time for innovative thinkers," Armey said. He urged the private sector to develop technologies that "respect the privacies of the American public.