Experts Discuss the Recommendations in the 9/11 Commission Report
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MARGARET WARNER: Will these recommendations correct America’s intelligence failings? To assess that and other questions we’re joined by: Philip Zelikow, who was executive director of the 9/11 Commission, a former National Security Council staffer and an historian, he’s currently director of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia; and Robert Gates, who was director of central intelligence from in the early ’90s, a former deputy national security adviser, he’s now president of Texas A &M University. Welcome to you both.
Bob Gates, we are talking as we just outlined a sweeping, about a sweeping overhaul of the whole intelligence apparatus. Before we get into the specifics, do you think that kind of dramatic reorganization is needed?
ROBERT GATES: Well, first I think that the Commission has rendered a historic service, and I think all of their recommendations merit serious consideration. I think people need to look carefully at what has been done since Sept. 11. The arrangements within the government, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, are all new since Sept. 11. So I think there has been a good deal of change.
And I think particularly with respect to a director of national security, the issue isn’t really turf as far as I’m concerned. It’s clear that reforms and changes are needed. The question is, what will work? What can be enacted into law, and will the law that is passed reflect the recommendations of the Commission, or will it end up being a compromise kind of legislation that in fact leaves the leader of national intelligence weaker than the current director of central intelligence? I think there are ways to strengthen the powers of the current director of central intelligence that would address a number of the concerns that the Commission has had.
MARGARET WARNER: But just briefly, Mr. Gates, your office put out a statement today saying basically you were quite critical of the idea of a national intelligence director, is that right?
ROBERT GATES: Yes, I frankly think that at the end of the day you will have a considerable opposition from the Department of Defense, considerable opposition from various committees of the Congress.
The powers of this director of national intelligence will not be what the Commission has recommended, but considerably less. And he’ll be more like the drug czar in the White House than somebody who actually has authority over all of the intelligence capabilities. The other side of this is, and it’s not just –.
MARGARET WARNER: Actually. Let me interrupt you right there and I’ll get Phil Zelikow to respond to that.
All right. Explain what your concept is and what kind of powers this new intelligence director would have.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: The powers would be the powers, it’s a lean horizontal front office, to span the different agencies, with authority to hire and fire leaders of your major operating divisions, to set their budgets, to receive the appropriation from Congress that would program their budgets, to set standards for personnel, to set standards for IT, across your operating divisions.
It’s a management structure familiar in some of America’s largest corporations. And it’s a management structure we think can work well with a lean front office. But I want to say, Bob Gates is right.
If Congress takes the shell of this idea and then dilutes the powers so that it looks like they’ve done it but they haven’t really done it, then you will have another bureaucratic layer, and I’ll just say here, if that’s the way it ends up, they might as well not do anything at all because they’ll make us even more worse off than we were before.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But when you say they would have powers to hire and fire so, you have this new structure and you have this national intelligence director; are you saying he could reach down and fire the head of say the DIA?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: That’s right. The head of the national security agency; the head of the FBI’s Office of Intelligence; and the head of the CIA.
MARGARET WARNER: How does that strike you, Mr. Gates?
ROBERT GATES: I think that frankly one of the powers, whether it’s a national intelligence director or a strengthened director of central intelligence, what’s important is that the director or whoever is in charge have the power to execute the budget that he’s given, in other words the power to move money and people around the entire intelligence community to deal with the highest priority issues, and that he, and that the leaders of those agencies know that he is the one to whom they are accountable and that he can hire them and that he can fire them.
MARGARET WARNER: So how would it differ Phil Zelikow, from the current post of DCI, which Mr. Gates held, in other words the director of central intelligence who is also head of the CIA — but doesn’t he statutorily have a lot of these powers?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: He doesn’t have any of these powers. He can’t hire and fire the heads of the major national intelligence agencies. He does not receive the appropriation for their budgets and does not disperse their budgets and has very limited control over their budgets, which don’t even come through his authorizing committee. He does not set common personnel or information technology policies across those agencies. And he does not, and also he is also the head of the CIA, an agency that needs a full-time manager of its own to rebuild the human intelligence and analytic abilities that our Commission described in its report.
MARGARET WARNER: Did you find the job to be as Phil Zelikow just described it, in other words, Mr. Gates, that one, you didn’t have these powers, and two that you really had a full-time job as the head of the CIA, it would have been pretty hard to do all this other stuff any way –
ROBERT GATES: Well, you know, back in the late 1970s there was the question whether the presidency had gotten too big for one person. I think that was put to rest by Ronald Reagan. The reality is one person can manage this if he’s given the appropriate authorities to be able to do it.
As DCI, I had the authority to establish the budgetary level for some of these agencies, or the parts of them that came under the national foreign intelligence program, but I had no authority to tell the director of that agency how to spend that money or how many people to hire.
So you didn’t have the authority actually to execute the budget, so whether you strengthen the DCI or you have a director of national intelligence, whoever runs the show does need significantly enhanced powers along the lines of what the Commission has described.
MARGARET WARNER: In what you’ve described, essentially then you would be stripping both the defense secretary and the head of the CIA of many of their own powers they currently exercise?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Stripping them but at the same time consolidating their responsibility for foreign intelligence and defense intelligence respectively. Here’s another point, is you need a person who is in charge of American intelligence across the domestic and foreign divide, who sets the same standards of quality for reporting intelligence out of Phoenix that you have in Karachi.
And if you put the head of the CIA in that job, you’re saying the head of the CIA has direct authority over running American intelligence operations inside the United States. People don’t want that. We want different rules for foreign intelligence and a different person running that. But that means that you need a different personality in charge to set those common standards and have that kind of authority.
MARGARET WARNER: And then how would this new counterterrorism center, national counterterrorism center fit into that?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: The national counter terrorism center is part of a Goldwater-Nichols concept for the intelligence community.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain that.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: We’ve been focusing so much on the national intelligence director concept that really we’re missing what this is all about. This is not the same idea others have proposed in the past.
The Goldwater-Nichols concept said you need unified commands that bring together the Army, Navy and Air Force to do joint planning together in which Army you do this, Navy, you do that. Then the services, the secretary of the Army, the secretary of the Navy, they organize, train and equip the forces that flow out to those unified commands.
This is a conception of that for the intelligence community, with joint mission centers bringing people from different disciplines and agencies together against common targets, supported by those home agencies like CIA and DIA.
That kind of structure drives you inexorably we think towards the kind of national intelligence director to oversee it, or else it’s like saying we’re going to have unified commands but the Navy gets to run them all.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think of that, Mr. Gates?
ROBERT GATES: Well, I think in theory it’s a good idea. But I have problems with certain aspects of it. For example, the notion that the national counterterrorism center at the White House would run counterterrorism operations.
I served on the National Security Council staff under four presidents, and believe me, every time the NSC got close to running operations out of the White House or the NSC, there was a lot of trouble. Whether the – these – the center — the idea of the center is a good one. I certainly would be very concerned about putting it in the White House or in the office of the president.
MARGARET WARNER: So are you talking about the danger of politicization, essentially?
ROBERT GATES: No, this is the danger of actually running intelligence operations, covert operations, if you will, out of the White House. The issue of politicization is one of the questions that I would raise about the new director of national intelligence is he’s an appointee of the president, he has cabinet rank, is the risk of having intelligence politicized increased by having such a figure be the person who brings that intelligence to the president, or is someone else going to bring intelligence analysis to the president?
Do you want somebody in between the president and the person who is actually responsible for running covert operations, which presumably would still be in CIA, so these are some of the practical concerns that I would have.
MARGARET WARNER: And how do you answer those?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Well, the national intelligence director, like a secretary of defense counterpart, would be in charge of managing covert operations, run by his national mission centers. It’s a different conception from the way covert operations are run today by the CIA in its directorate operations — just the same way that the secretary of defense is the officer to whom the head of central command reports in using naval units which are no longer under the operational control of the secretary of the Navy the way they were 40 years ago.
It’s a different conception, and in that conception you’re not attenuating the lines of authority for covert operations, and you do need the president’s analyst in chief to be someone who is close to the president and trusted by the president. That’s inevitable. And then you have to hope that public servants provide information that’s truthful and accurate, because time has shown that that’s the best way to serve the president.
MARGARET WARNER: And what about the dangers that Mr. Gates raised of having essentially intelligence run out of the White House and politicization potentially?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Well, last time I looked, covert operations were already being authorized by the president, and by the National Security Council, and there’s abundant evidence in our report that shows these are things that are very integrally discussed and manipulated by the White House.
It’s basically the White House is giving commands directly to the DCI and the DCI in that sense, intelligence, is an executive honor of the government, and we just have to step up to that and be open about it. But if there’s no fundamental conceptual shift from the situation that exists right now.
The national intelligence director is a Senate confirmed position. This person is accountable to the Congress, would receive an appropriation from the Congress. This is not a person who was one of the president’s advisors, a member of the intimate White House staff, like say a Condoleezza Rice. And so this person is more like someone like the United States trade representative, or the drug czar, but with powers that the drug czar never had.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Gates, are you getting persuaded here?
ROBERT GATES: I’m sorry?
MARGARET WARNER: Are you getting persuaded here at all?
ROBERT GATES: No, because frankly I think it all sounds very good, but I’m very concerned that what emerges from the Congress and is signed by the president won’t have the clean lines that Philip describes and that there will have been compromises along the way that make this much more difficult and much more complex and may leave us in a weaker position than if we had a strengthened director of central intelligence.
Don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely of the view that further changes need to be made, structural changes, changes inside CIA, further reform is required, but I think it’s essential to make sure that we don’t end up worse off than we already now because we end up with legislation that does not reflect exactly what the Commission has recommended.
MARGARET WARNER: On that you agree?
PHILIP ZELIKOW: No. This is a great area of agreement. We seem to agree that if the Commission’s recommendations were adopted intact, it might work. And the fear is that it will be messed up; it will fall short of the ideal and by falling short make matters worse.
MARGARET WARNER: And you’re talking -
PHILIP ZELIKOW: Well, that’s guidance on which we can have a terrific consensus; it’s the job of a commission to state what it should be and then it is the job of the nation’s leaders to insist on the good.
MARGARET WARNER: Phil Zelikow, Bob Gates, thank you both.