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Implications of the Intelligence Reform Bill

December 8, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: So does this reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community do what’s needed to help prevent another 9/11-style attack? To explore that, we’re joined by Philip Zelikow, the former staff director of the 9/11 Commission. He’s a professor of history at the University of Virginia and director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs there; and John Deutch, who served as deputy secretary of defense and then director of central intelligence during the Clinton administration. Welcome to you both.

Phil Zelikow, let me begin with you. Does this bill do what’s needed, equip the government to better anticipate and prevent another large-scale terror attack?

PHILIP ZELIKOW: Yes, it does, Margaret. We should be clear. Radical change in the way government works is never done at a single stroke of the pen, and this bill isn’t the end of the story.

What you can do, though, is put government on a different evolutionary pathway. It will keep evolving. It will keep improving. But now it’s evolving on a very different path than it was on before, and one I think that will make America safer and more secure.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, if you had to sum up, what’s the one thing that the bill does that was lacking, say, before 9/11? You all looked at this so closely. What is it?

PHILIP ZELIKOW: The bill provides us with unprecedented unity of effort. Instead of an enormous government working along many different paths, it provides us with much greater capabilities to get all the different players to function as a team, carrying out strategies as a team.

What you’ve had in the past was a situation where one of the players was also the coach of team, and frankly, being a star player is a full-time job. And now you’ve got a separate coach who can try to manage this as a team, executing strategies that go across the executive agencies, moving resources around with greater agility so that this can be a more effective system, and managing counter-terrorism operations across the foreign-domestic divide to match transnational enemies.

MARGARET WARNER: John Deutch, do you see it that way, that this brings at least a unity of effort to all these disparate agencies involved in combating terrorism and intelligence?

JOHN DEUTCH: Well, Margaret, let me first of all say to Phil Zelikow thank you for his exemplary public service, as having served as executive director of the 9/11 Commission.

This bill has the potential of improving intelligence for America, however, it is so full of ambiguities that it is going to be a long time, many years, before we are sure whether it gives the new director of national intelligence the authority that that individual should have to be accountable for the quality of our intelligence.

It will take a long time of debate about removing the ambiguities that are present everywhere in this legislation, and it will take time for the director to build the capability to perform the functions that are envisioned here.

Reorganization is not an immediate way of improving our intelligence collection, analysis or dissemination, and ambiguity, the immense amount of ambiguity which exists in this piece of legislation, in over 600 pages, is not good for the people of the intelligence community.

MARGARET WARNER: Give me an example, the most glaring example, of the kind of ambiguity you’re talking about, say in the powers of the national intelligence director.

JOHN DEUTCH: Let me point to two, which I find are especially important. The legislation really does not address the principle difficulty that led to the intelligence failure of 9/11, and that is the relationship between the foreign intelligence establishment and the FBI.

Essentially the bill does not address at all how we should change the way we collect domestic intelligence, the way we integrate our law enforcement efforts with our national security efforts simply not addressed by the bill. More importantly, the authorities over the budget of which the new director of national intelligence will have are not spelled out in the legislation.

It will be a tremendous bureaucratic war between the new director of national intelligence and the secretary of defense of just how much of the existing program gets shifted to the new national intelligence director’s authority.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me get Phil Zelikow’s comment on that. Do you think there’s a lot of ambiguity in this bill, especially with the powers of the national intelligence director?

PHILIP ZELIKOW: There’s inevitably ambiguity in any piece of legislation in our government because we work in a government in which power is shared. So what you’re doing is you’re redefining the way power is shared, and ambiguity to some extent is inherent in that.

What we do to combat the two concerns that John raised, and John’s points are valid concerns, is you define national intelligence so that the scope of what should be included in the national intelligence program is clearer, but it’s still a matter that’s going to have to be worked out in practice, but the tools are there for a vigorous director of national intelligence to do that job.

On the foreign-domestic point John raised, the bill is an enabler. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll have good management strategies. It enables you to have management strategies because it creates a structure that can be managed coherently, which we didn’t have before, but it doesn’t mean that good management strategies will therefore come out of thin air.

You create a structure that allows do you have good management. Then you need the people and the ideas that will realize that potential.

MARGARET WARNER: Okay. But just brief follow-up. For instance, what’s the structural thing in this bill that makes the CIA and the FBI share intelligence more, that addresses the lack of connecting the dots that the commission identified as one of the major failures?

PHILIP ZELIKOW: Well, for the first time you have a firm director of national intelligence who is not subdivided into a foreign director and a domestic director. Right now the CIA director is strictly limited to foreign intelligence; the director of the FBI does domestic intelligence.

Now you have a director of national intelligence, spanning the foreign-domestic divide, controlling the budget both for FBI intelligence and for CIA intelligence, setting collection requirements across the foreign-domestic divide with joint fusion and operational planning to track terrorists and counter-terrorists, whether they’re overseas or in the United States or both.

MARGARET WARNER: John Deutch, let me ask you about, speaking now of this NDI or whatever the acronym is, I think it’s DNI, Director of National Intelligence, as I read the bill, he doesn’t have any agency he actually runs.

He doesn’t have agents. He doesn’t have analysts of his own. I think he’s allowed to have a staff of some 500. Is there any danger that he could just become a figurehead without an agency of his own to run?

JOHN DEUTCH: There’s absolutely that danger. The Director of National Intelligence, if that individual does not have responsibility, not only for the budget, but also for the programming and the plans which all the various agencies put together to mount our intelligence effort, that individual will quickly become very much like what people say the drug czar is today in Washington.

I will say, on the other hand, if the appropriate authorities are granted to that Director of National Intelligence, if it’s clear that that individual has responsibility for the programming and the planning of the multiple efforts of all the agency, he becomes or she becomes very much like the secretary of defense, who has a relatively small staff in the office of the secretary, but where the uniformed services and the military departments, the army, navy, air force and marines, know that he calls the shots.

He doesn’t run everything on a day-to-day basis, but he has the authority to point the way forward. That kind of authority and accountability is not evident in the legislation as it is currently drafted and passed.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Phil Zelikow, would you comment on that? And then I have another question for you, something John Deutch raised that I realized I hadn’t gotten you to comment on.

PHILIP ZELIKOW: Sure. I think the authorities that are in the bill now are sufficient to create the potential for the vision that John Deutch has articulated rightly. That’s the right vision, but I think the authorities are there to realize that potential if you have the right person and the president backs that person in developing those authorities the way that’s envisioned.

You don’t have to control one of the agencies and be dual-headed to have important influence over programming. In other words, you don’t have to be a player in order to be a coach. Indeed, there are problems in being both a player and a coach. Don Rumsfeld doesn’t have to be the head of CENTCOM in order to know what’s going on in Iraq and set defense policy.

And so then you really do get to the question of whether or not the director has sufficient authority over the component agencies. Well, he can allocate every dollar that’s being spent in the CIA, and most of the dollars being spent in the other national agencies. He has influence over who the people are; he determines what the procedures are for promotion; he determines what the information technology standards are going to be across the community.

On issue after issue, he sets common standards. He oversees liaison with foreign intelligence officials across all the executive agencies and the intelligence community. These are significant potential powers which if properly exercised can realize the vision.

MARGARET WARNER: Then I also want to ask you to pick up on something that John Deutch raised. He said the big failure was in the intelligence collection and in the intelligence analysis, and your commission also said a failure of imagination on the part of policymakers. Can structural change like this address those shortcomings?

PHILIP ZELIKOW: Yes, it can because, again, they’re enabling mechanisms. Let’s take collection. Let’s say before 9/11 you wanted to ship a lot more resources into language training so you could get spies who could speak the local languages.

That kind of money wasn’t available in the CIA’s own budget. You’d have to reach perhaps to the budgets of other intelligence agencies and move things around. The director of the CIA in that era did not really have the kind of strength of authority that this bill would create to enact those kinds of management innovations.

On analysis, you create all source senior managers working for the Director of National Intelligence who aren’t beholden to one of the particular intelligence agencies, like CIA or in the Department of Defense the way the current system is now.

That gives you a better ability to force up that kind of synthesis and strategic assessment you need, and the bill underscores that point again and again.

MARGARET WARNER: John Deutch, you have the final word on this about collection analysis and imagination.

JOHN DEUTCH: Well, Margaret, I think that Philip is right in saying that this bill enables change, but wouldn’t it have been better to sort out many of these differences and tie them down before undertaking a massive change in the way we do business in our national security intelligence area.

Awake the results of other commissions, for example, the commission being headed by Sen. Robb and Judge Silverman, looking into another very, very important intelligence failure, the information or false information on weapons of mass destruction, wouldn’t it have been better to sort this out than to engage a piece of legislation that still has ambiguities and differences.

Yes, Philip is right, it has the potential, but those ambiguities are going to be hard for the intelligence community to work with over the next several years.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, a work in progress we’ll with watching. Thank you both.