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Bush Accepts Reforms to Intelligence Agencies

June 30, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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TRANSCRIPT

MARGARET WARNER: President Bush yesterday ordered a further shakeup in the nation’s intelligence structure. His biggest step was creating a new national security service within the FBI. It will report not to the FBI director, nor to the attorney general, but to the nation’s chief spymaster, the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte.

This step and others reflect recommendations made three months ago by a presidential commission investigating past WMD intelligence failures. Will this change make the FBI more effective in investigating and thwarting terrorism?

Joining us to discuss that are former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, a member of the earlier 9/11 Commission — it faulted the FBI for intelligence lapses, but didn’t go this far in recommending change at the bureau; Timothy Edgar, policy counsel for national security at the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU has criticized this move. And Republican Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the FBI — he called for a similar service within the service just last year.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Wolf, I want to begin with you because I know have you to take a couple minutes out to go vote. You called for a service within a service. Do you like what the president has authorized now, not only creating this new service, but putting it under the authority of the spy chief outside the FBI?

REP. FRANK WOLF: I think it’s a very positive thing. The FBI has made a lot of progress, but there’s a long way to go, and I think this helps. One, this was the recommendation of the WMD commission chaired by Judge Silberman and also Senator Robb from my state. Also the 9/11 commission was very much involved in our effort as we made that recommendation. In fact there’s a staff member sat through our private meetings with regard to that.

I think it’s a very positive thing to make sure that everything that possibly can be done to reform the FBI, to transform it. Director Mueller has done an outstanding job, but there’s a long way to go and I think they’re going to make a lot of progress and I think this will help. Again it was bipartisan.

This pretty much fits in with what one of the panels recommended on the 9/11 commission, fits in exactly with what Judge Silberman said and it think it’s a very good thing for the FBI and for the country.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. But before you go run vote let me just ask you something else.

REP. FRANK WOLF: I’m okay for a few minutes.

MARGARET WARNER: You are. Then I’ll go to Jamie Gorelick and come back to you.

Jamie Gorelick, first of all, as we said, your commission, the 9/11 commission didn’t go this far. Do you now support this idea; do you think it’s needed?

JAMIE GORELICK: It is consistent with our recommendations. We didn’t make specifically this recommendation, but we don’t have the view that every jot and tittle in this book has to be adopted by the administration.

What we wanted to see, Margaret, was a consistent effort within the FBI to approach the counter-terrorism mission cohesively, and then someone outside, in this case the director of national intelligence, also having a voice.

I don’t think that this recommendation is a recommendation to have the DNI direct the operations of the national security personnel within the FBI. I don’t read the proposal that way. If it were to be the case, I would pause over it, but I don’t understand that to be the recommendation, and the decision.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you read it, Congressman Wolf? As I read it, Mr. Negroponte will have ultimate authority and something I read today said he’ll be able to actually direct FBI field offices if he wants.

REP. FRANK WOLF: No, I don’t think it will go that far. Director Negroponte will be very much involved in the hiring, they will report through Director Negroponte, but the person will also report to Director Mueller and also through the attorney general.

So I really don’t think it’s going to go that far. It is the way to make sure that the FBI transforms itself, and as again I said it was a good 9/11 commission, bipartisan, WMD commission, bipartisan, it fits in with the recommendations of men and women who spent a lot of time looking at this.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. But let me ask you this, Congressman. Director Mueller has come to your committee, he came to the 9/11 commission, he said, look, I can restructure the FBI, I can orient it towards prevention, not just after the fact, you know, rounding up the bad guys. I will make sure it shares intelligence. Has he failed to deliver enough, is that why this step is needed now?

REP. FRANK WOLF: The FBI, up until 9/11, as Jamie knows, was involved with when there’s a crime, go out and investigate it, gather information, prosecute and move on. The transformation now is to stop a terrorist act from taking place. It has taken a while to transform it. I think a lot of good people in the FBI have worked very, very hard and I think this just validates and puts another layer in to make sure there is transfer of information, CIA, the T tick is now working well, where CIA and FBI meet and talk.

I don’t think it’s really anything but what the WMD and 9/11 recommended, and I think it’s a good thing. We want to do everything we possibly can to help Director Mueller to transform the FBI, and when we put the language in our bill in a service, Director Mueller supported that very strongly.

MARGARET WARNER: Jamie Gorelick, you said, I think it was earlier this month or late last month though, at another hearing that you and some 9/11 commissioners had been dismayed at the lack of progress at the FBI since your report. What were you talking about?

JAMIE GORELICK: The 9/11 public discourse project, which is how the former 9/11 commissioners have come together to review our progress in the years since we gave our report with the intention of giving a report card in September on what our progress has been, is holding a series of hearings.

And at that first hearing, which I chaired, the subject was where are we with the FBI and the CIA and what has their progress been? One of the questions of the panel from a reporter was: What is your reaction to the failure of the technology effort on the part of the FBI, which was going to allow it to share information internally? And I said there that we as former commissioners have been taken aback by the failure of that initiative.

MARGARET WARNER: And this is the one they spent millions and millions on and now have scrapped.

JAMIE GORELICK: Hundreds of millions.

MARGARET WARNER: Hundreds of millions?

JAMIE GORELICK: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: And they are now looking for someone to redesign it or design a new one.

JAMIE GORELICK: Yes. I think what I was trying to convey there, and I think maybe this is what your question is getting at, is that we said in the 9/11 commission report that the FBI has frequently said “we understand, we get it, we’re turning the corner,” and it hasn’t been able to fully deliver despite the best intentions of the director and the stated goals of the leadership. It’s a big organization, it has a very strong culture; it has its pride in the way it’s done things in the past. It’s just hard to change, and Director Mueller has recognized that.

MARGARET WARNER: So, briefly, you think that an outside hand will, having Mr. Negroponte over it will somehow be able to kick start this?

JAMIE GORELICK: We believe that if you have the budget power, personnel power and power over information sharing and technology, as a policy matter, yes, you can have a great influence on what happens in the constituent agencies, including the bureau.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Mr. Edgar in here. Tim Edgar, you’re with the ACLU, very, very concerned — mission statement’s very concerned about this move on the president’s part. Why?

TIMOTHY EDGAR: I think our big problem is that spies and cops have different roles and they play by different rules, and we believe the FBI, which is our domestic surveillance agency, should be reporting to a top cop; that surveillance in the United States for national security reasons has special powers and special secret courts that are involved. But that it’s always been considered a matter for our top law enforcement agency, the FBI and not for a domestic counter part to the CIA.

And I’m concerned that by creating this agency within an agency, which is going to be a third of the FBI in budgetary terms, and having them report basically to the national intelligence director, with having these strong authorities that the national intelligence director has, that some of those tactics and techniques that Mr. Negroponte is using abroad is using in places like Guantanamo, could seep into the ethic and culture of what the FBI does.

MARGARET WARNER: Give us one example.

TIMOTHY EDGAR: Sure. The FBI has a completely different ethic. They have gone around and looked at our interrogation abroad. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the whistle-blowing that we’ve seen on some of the worst abuses has come from FBI agents. They have said wait a second, these kinds of tactics that they’re using in interrogations are completely out of bounds. And so I’m concerned that if those FBI agents are walled off into a separate service, which is basically being run by a spy master, that that ethic may become diluted.

MARGARET WARNER: Is that a danger, Congressman Wolf?

REP. FRANK WOLF: I think it would have been a danger had there been an MI-5, then you would have had a domestic intelligence agency doing what the gentleman said. The Congress is having very aggressive oversight, NAPA, the National Academy of Public Administration, is looking at this. David Walker, head of GAO, is looking at this, the Congressional Reference Service is looking at this. The IG gives us monthly reports on this and they’re looking at it. The 9/11 commission looked at it and sat through our entire meeting where we talked about this; the WMD has been in touch.

This, I think, there are tremendous safeguards now in the FBI. Had it had an MI-5 outside, you would not have had the internal safeguards, that would have been a domestic CIA. So I do not agree with that. And the FBI is known for respecting civil liberties. So there are so many internal, IG, NAPA, GAO, Library of Congress, House and Senate appropriations, House and Senate authorizers, and I think to make sure something like that doesn’t happen, that Congress should be very aggressive in oversight, both the props and authorizers, and lastly the attorney general has to be very much more involved in the FBI Than attorney generals have been in the past.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think Mr. Edgar’s concerns are warranted? Do you think that Americans should be worried that their civil liberties will be eroded by this FBI that now is also operating as part of the foreign intelligence apparatus in a way?

JAMIE GORELICK: I think that Tim’s points, and his concerns are valid ones, and as Congressman Wolf said, that was the reason that the 9/11 commission didn’t recommend an MI-5. If the director of national intelligence is running the FBI, as –

MARGARET WARNER: Or this FBI service.

JAMIE GORELICK: Or this FBI service, that’s a problem. That’s, I don’t think, the intention. I think the intention is to have an outside grownup, if you will, over all of these agencies to make sure that the connections are made, that they keep on track in the commitments that they have undertaken.

But if, frankly, if the DNI becomes operational, and starts to run all of these agencies, not only will it create a problem for our domestic civil liberties, because Congressman Wolf is right, the attorney general has that responsibility to make sure the FBI operates within the law. But also, it will create a new bureaucracy over these institutions. We — remember the 9/11 commission rejected the notion of taking all of these agencies out of their homes and amalgamating them.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you reassured but what you just heard, a promise of more congressional oversight?

TIMOTHY EDGAR: Well, I think there’s two things there. One is oversight does need to be beefed up. One way to do that would be to empower the civil liberties protection board that was created when we restructured the intelligence agencies. The problem is that boards been under funded and it doesn’t have a lot of the powers it needs.

Congressmen Udall and Shays and others have asked for legislation to give it stronger subpoena powers, and other independence. I think that would be a useful oversight mechanism. But I also think that, you know, the kinds of strong powers that are being proposed right here are what Mark Felt was worried about. Mark Felt –

MARGARET WARNER: Deep Throat.

TIMOTHY EDGAR: Deep Throat, he was concerned that the FBI or some big part of it could be politicized, could be taken over by a White House control. And that was one reason he was concerned about what Nixon was doing. So I’m worried a little bit that now we have two political officials, the attorney general and the DNI, who have their fingers into the FBI, and could that produce a greater danger of politicization as well.

MARGARET WARNER: Frank Wolf, we actually just have a couple minutes left, but if you want to briefly address that, but also let me get back to the effectiveness of this new mechanism.

Mr. Silberbman, Judge Silberman, who headed the WMD commission, said really recently that there was a lot of resistance still within the FBI, the culture and he felt Director Mueller, to this idea and to a lot of other changes. Will this move on the president’s part by itself change that? Or does something more need to be done to really shake up the culture there?

REP. FRANK WOLF: Well, I think what Judge Silberman said is accurate. I think no one likes change. You don’t like change, I don’t like change, no one likes change. But I think Director Mueller is on board and thinks this is for the best interest of the FBI but more importantly for the best interest of the country.

Thirty people from my district died in the attack on the Pentagon. We all went through 9/11, and Jamie and their commission did a great job. I think we were complaining that there’s no sharing of information. This will help alleviate.

And during the Watergate thing, there was almost no congressional oversight by the House or the Senate. In the old days, the Appropriations Committee and the Judiciary Committee feared the FBI; no one wanted to stand up to J. Edgar Hoover.

There is no fear. Senator Grassley is very aggressive. Senator Specter is very aggressive. Our committee’s been accused of being very aggressive. We have NAPA involved, 9/11 involved, WMD involved, GAO involved, the Library of Congress involved. So congressional oversight — and I want to do the best we can to keep this country safe.

And lastly, personnel is policy. And who you put in, you need to put people who are intellectually curious, people who are very diligent, people who are honest, and ethical and moral. And I believe what the administration has done, but what they have done as recommended by 9/11 and what they have done by WMD will be good for the country and protect the country.

MARGARET WARNER: Brief final word from you, Jamie Gorelick.

JAMIE GORELICK: I think this is a good step, but the wariness that we have heard here tonight is appropriate and I’m glad to hear Congressman Wolf is going to provide ample oversight.

MARGARET WARNER: Terrific. Thank you all very much.