TOPICS > Politics

Efforts to Pass Intelligence Reform Bill Stall in Congress

November 24, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPENCER MICHELS: Negotiators hit a logjam Saturday when some House Republicans refused to go along with the latest compromise on intelligence reform. House Speaker Dennis Hastert responded by pulling the bill from the floor.

Some House members had argued in committee meetings for months that the bill stripped too much authority from the Pentagon and placed it in the hands of a new intelligence director.

California Republican Representative Duncan Hunter led the charge against the bill, saying it would keep battlefield commanders from getting intelligence in a timely way. He stated his case on the NewsHour Monday evening.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (Monday): It’s going to move more of that control of those three combat support agencies to a bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. I think that’s a formula for failure on the battlefield.

MARGARET WARNER (Monday): And just briefly, you mean a bureaucracy under the national intelligence director.


SPENCER MICHELS: Those three agencies are: The NRO, or the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates the spy satellites; the NSA, the National Security Agency intercepts communications; and the National Geospatial Agency analyzes images. All currently fall under the Pentagon.

Backers of the intelligence bill argued that the Defense Department and its supporters in Congress were protecting the Pentagon’s interests.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I think what you’re seeing here is the forces in favor of the status quo protecting their turf, whether it’s in Congress or in the bureaucracy; and at a time when we are fighting the war on terrorism, we cannot allow turf concerns to determine the structure of our government.

SPENCER MICHELS: The president was in Chile for a summit of world leaders when he learned of the bill’s collapse.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I was disappointed that the bill didn’t pass. I thought it was going to pass up until the last minute.

SPENCER MICHELS: A New York Times editorial on Tuesday said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had lobbied to kill the bill. At the Pentagon yesterday, Rumsfeld called that nonsense. And when asked about the objections to the bill from House members, the secretary said he was on board with the White House.

CHARLES ALDINGER, Reuters: Mr. Secretary, some members of the House Intelligence Committee say that the Senate version of the bill doesn’t protect tactical intelligence from the war fighter because it concentrates too much on overall intelligence. Would you agree with that?

DONALD RUMSFELD: No. I’m not knowledgeable enough to agree or disagree. I am supporting the president’s position. I am part of his administration. The difficulty, I suppose, that comes up is the same piece of information can simultaneously be tactical battlefield information and at the same time be national intelligence. We all know that. These things don’t fall into neat bins where they’re one or the other. So this is tough stuff.

SPENCER MICHELS: Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged writing a letter to Congress expressing his preference for a bill keeping Pentagon control.

JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN: Gen. Myers, can you explain the circumstances of your letter to Congressman Hunter, which does appear to lend support to one version of the bill over the other?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: You bet. Chairman Hunter called and asked for my opinion on a certain matter that related to intel reform, and I was obliged to give him my opinion, and I did that.

BARBARA STARR, CNN: Mr. Chairman, do you and the joint chiefs still oppose shifting those programs to a national intelligence director?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: My position on the particular issue is as stated in my letter.

SPENCER MICHELS: Meanwhile, there are reports that the White House is still trying to negotiate a compromise in time for Congress to consider the legislation again when it returns to Washington on Dec. 6.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on the major issue that appears to be holding up the intelligence reform bill, we turn to: John Lehman, a member of the 9/11 Commission. He was secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. And Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia; he sits on the House Armed Services Committee. Welcome to you both.

Congressman, help us understand the crux of this stalemate. Is it your position and Congressman Hunter’s and Gen. Myers’ that this bill threatens the Pentagon’s access to the intelligence that comes from these three agencies?

REP. PHIL GINGREY: Well, Margaret, we came back to Washington in August during the so-called August recess, those of us who sit on the House Armed Services and Senate Armed Services Committees respectively, and had literally a week of hearings.

We heard from both Lee Hamilton and Gov. Kean from the Commission. We heard from everybody who is anybody within the Department of Defense, including Gen. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And I want to say one thing that’s most important. I learned in the Hippocratic oath as a freshman medical student, in the first place, do no harm. And these people that are clamoring for us to do something, even if it’s wrong, we’re talking about the lives of the troops on the ground, and many of us know some of them personally who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we’ve got to get this right.

MARGARET WARNER: Right. But explain to laypeople watching this program what exactly it is that you think would endanger those men and women on the ground that is in that compromise bill that the top four negotiators agreed to Saturday night and thought they had a deal on.

REP. PHIL GINGREY: Absolutely. The general public, when you talk about intelligence, they’re going to think about the FBI and the CIA. They’re not going to think about eight out of the fifteen agencies that are embedded within the Department of Defense. You mentioned them earlier: The Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial Intelligence Office and all of the intelligence departments of the branches, the four branches of the military, all of that is embedded within the Department of Defense.

Now, basically, what our concern is, if you let that information be in complete control of an NID, a national intelligence director, who has control over not only the purse strings within the Department of Defense intelligence but also the personnel, then we worry about the troops on the ground, those young men and women, our sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters who are over there worrying about what’s over the next hill. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, is a hero, as is Jim Sensenbrenner of the Judiciary Committee. They know we need to get this right because lives are at stake.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Secretary Lehman, you’re not only a member of the 9/11 Commission but a former service chief here, or service secretary. Would this bill interfere with that chain of command, with that flow of intelligence, from these satellites to battlefield commanders?

JOHN LEHMAN: No, not at all. In fact, that was our principal concern when we entered these investigations. We were immersed for two years. We interviewed 1,250 people. We studied 2.5 million classified documents. We talked to every combat commander involved.

We never ran into — and I never ran into in all my years in the Pentagon — a combatant commander that believed that the current system works for them. I never met one involved in any conflict or war while I was secretary of the Navy before that or after that that felt that they were adequately served by the defense agencies when they needed it with the focused kind of intelligence they needed to have.

That’s because there’s nobody in charge. There’s nobody accountable. I have a son who is a naval aviator. I know plenty of people that have their lives on the line, and that is absolutely our first consideration. And that’s why we made these recommendations, because this will immensely improve it.

One thing that we found above all others in our investigation, this intelligence system is broken, dysfunctional and leaves us virtually as vulnerable today as we were at 9/11.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. So, what is your understanding… then why are there these objections not only from Duncan Hunter and Congressman Gingrey, but also from Gen. Myers, the head of the joint chiefs?

JOHN LEHMAN: Well, because I think you’re involved in one of the classic iron triangle challenges here that we have seen through years and years in Washington.

You’ve got three entrenched forces here: One, the established committee structure, where Armed Services controls 90 percent of the intelligence budget, and they don’t want to share it. They don’t want to give up any of that power. You’ve got the hardware manufacturers that manufacture the satellites that lobby and have very strong interests to keep the gross imbalance between hardware and the human and the translators, area specialists…

MARGARET WARNER: The human intelligence?

JOHN LEHMAN: Yeah, human intelligence has been so under funded, and it’s not because the secretary of defense and the director of CIA haven’t wanted to add more money. But when it gets up to the Hill, it gets moved out of those soft things… there aren’t any lobbyists for human intelligence. There are plenty of lobbyists for the satellite makers.

So money always moves to fix those problems first, and often that is the least valuable to the commanders on the ground. We want to fix that. We want somebody in charge that can put rationality into the way we allocate resources and see that it’s carried out.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Gingrey, is that at least a good part of what was this is about? It’s really much more about money and control over money than it is about the flow of intelligence?

REP. PHIL GINGREY: With all due respect to Secretary Lehman, and I have tremendous respect for the secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, and he built up our navy like nobody has done before — this is a man with a great resume. But I just respectfully disagree with him. And I don’t think… you talk about talking to all of the combatant commanders, he obviously didn’t talk to Ray O. Deniro. He didn’t talk to Gen. Peter Schumacher; he didn’t talk to Gen. Peter Pace; he didn’t talk to Gen. Myers. And we had these hearings. And, in fact, the two members of the commission– the chairman and co-chairman, Gov. Kean and Lee Hamilton, Congressman Lee Hamilton.

When we brought this to their attention, this concern, after listening to the Department of Defense and the military, they said, “oh, you know, maybe we need to come back and do an addendum to the 9/11 700-page report because possibly there are things we didn’t think.” But look, these ten guys, great men on both sides of the aisle, did a tremendous job and I respect them. But they put their pants on the same way the rest of us do, and they’re not perfect.

They made some recommendations and we’re trying to abide by those recommendations, but we want to make sure that we get it right.

MARGARET WARNER: Right. But Congressman, if you could tell us really succinctly so that we can track this.

Give me an example of a piece of intelligence that would be both of interest to battlefield commanders but also to the national leadership, the national civilian leadership that right now you feel gets to the combatant commanders quickly and somehow wouldn’t under this bill.

REP. PHIL GINGREY: Let me make it very personal. Tyler Brown, first lieutenant, killed in action. Georgia Tech graduate, president of the student body, 26 years old, was killed by a sniper three weeks after he arrived in Iraq from the DMZ. That young Marine, young soldier, Army first lieutenant, he needed information right away about where that sniper was, where that possible attack was coming from.

If we have to worry about that information going up the chain of command to an NID who is outside the Department of Defense, then we have some real concerns here, and so…

MARGARET WARNER: Okay, let me… I hate to interrupt you, but Secretary Lehman, what’s your response to that kind of example?

JOHN LEHMAN: Well, because that’s wrong. That’s not in our recommendation and it’s not in either of the bills. All that we’re talking about here is at the top level that the NID have the authority to allocate with the secretary of defense where the money goes — satellite, human intelligence, specialized intelligence.

There is no language in our recommendations or the bill that would give the NID operational control or the ability to interfere with or redirect or challenge or modulate the operational flow of intelligence. It’s not just not there. That’s why I say these are really red herring arguments.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Congressman, when… on Saturday night, after the negotiators had come up with this compromise, House Republicans went in a caucus, and many of you said essentially no, which is why Hastert pulled the bill. Did you feel at that point that you were defying the president and Secretary Rumsfeld, who yesterday said that he supports the president’s position?

REP. PHIL GINGREY: It’s not a matter of defying the president at all or defying Secretary Rumsfeld.

I think we just want to get it right. I think we will get it right. I think we’ll probably go back Dec. 6, and hopefully the conferees will bring us a report that we can all be comfortable with, both Chairman Hunter and Chairman Sensenbrenner, and the rank and file members of the Congress, of the congressional caucus.

Look, I would like to ask Secretary Lehman how he thinks about what he thinks of an amendment that I offered which actually would place a combatant commander within the Department of Defense who would communicate directly with the NID for these eight intelligence agencies embedded within the Department of Defense. This would be a four-star general who would be in charge of all of those eight agencies and would directly communicate with the NID regarding budget and regarding personnel. I offered that amendment. I’m going to talk to Chairman Hunter about that and Speaker Hastert, and hopefully that’s a way of solving this problem.

MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Lehman, is such a compromise possible?

JOHN LEHMAN: I think that compromise is very possible. In fact, that was our recommendation in the report which never made it into either bill. So I’m totally with the congressman. I think that’s the right way to go about it. And there are other language solutions that could allay the fears.

And I understand the sincere concern that that’s got to be our first priority, to see that those kids engaged are given absolutely everything, that all sources are focused to support in a timely way our engaged forces. There’s nobody to do that today.

So language that can allay the concerns that the congressman just very well articulated would be the way to bridge this, and I think it certainly can be bridged.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me end with a question to you again, Secretary Lehman. The Washington Post today had an editorial saying that this was probably a good delay. They didn’t sign up for necessarily this particular argument, but they said this is such a massive subject that it really needed more deliberation.

What is the rush? Why is it so necessary to get something in December? Why not revisit it when the new Congress comes in, in January?

JOHN LEHMAN: Well, because al-Qaida is not waiting. They’re planning. They have in their plans and their process right now attacks in the United States that would make 9/11 look like a picnic. We don’t have time to leave this dysfunctional system in place. Every day counts. In 1947, when we did the 1947 Act that rebuilt the entire national security structure for the Cold War, it took another four years of refining legislation, but the structure was changed to deal with the Cold War, and that’s what we should do here. Of course, one of — the congressman said, “at first do no harm,” and we totally believe that.

And one of the things we all concluded was: this system, as it’s set up today, is so dysfunctional that no matter what we did could make it any worse and could do harm.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. We’ll have to leave it there. Secretary Lehman and Congressman, thank you both.