JOSEPH HELMAN: Good morning. Welcome to today's meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. This is the seventh meeting of the series on national intelligence. I'm Joe Helman, serving as this year's national intelligence fellow at the Council.
Please, before we begin, silence all cell phones and other devices. They tend to interfere with the sound system, even on vibrate. So thank you very much for that.
The ground rules for today's meeting -- today's meeting is on the record, so please keep that in mind when we open the session up for questions and answers.
The topic of today's meeting is "Intelligence Reform and Oversight: The View from Congress." And the Council, on important national security issues and other issues that are receiving great attention in the public space, are seeking to bring together leaders on these issues to have informed discussions. And this discussion today, I think, on the issue of intelligence reform and oversight is an example of the Council's effort in that area.
So we're very fortunate to be joined by two leaders, not just in intelligence reform and oversight, but also two leaders in the drafting and passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which led to the most significant reforms of the intelligence community since the National Security Act of 1947.
You have their full bios in today's program, so I'll be very brief in my introduction. Representative Jane Harman represents the 36th district of California. She's served seven terms in Congress; currently serves as the chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment. In 2006, she completed eight years of service on the House Intelligence Committee, the final four as ranking member.
Representative Peter Hoekstra represents Michigan's second congressional district and has served in Congress since 1993. He is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and has served on the committee since 2001, including service as its chairman.
Thank you both very much for joining us today.
I thought we'd start with a general question with respect to your views, with the benefit of three and a half years of experience since the last was passed, as to your assessment of the implementation of the Intelligence Reform Act. What aspects have met your expectation, and where does work remain to be done?
REPRESENTATIVE JANE HARMAN (D-CA): Well, first, Joe, if you don't mind, let me say good morning to some good friends. There are a lot of people in this audience who know an enormous amount about intelligence. Many of you have served in senior positions and maybe will serve in those positions or some even more exalted positions again. Thank you for your service.
And more important than you, thank you to people whose names we don't know who are serving in austere places right now, in harm's way, in unaccompanied posts around the world. Peter and I have visited many of those places together and thanked those people in person, but it is an enormous act of selflessness and patriotism for people to work in the intelligence community. And I just have to say thank you.
The Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, I think, was pretty good law, certainly the best we could do under tough circumstances. There was enormous push-back from the secretary of Defense and the vice president in terms of the powers we could give the Director of National Intelligence. But we wrote a law that can work, that has adequate budgetary authorities to work.
And I want to say something nice about Pete Hoekstra. I want to say more than something nice about Pete Hoekstra. (Laughter.) But there were -- there was the so-called big four, the senior conferees. He and I were the two from the House, and the two from the Senate were Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman. And, of course, I always say that since there were two women on the conference, we did 98 percent of the work, and that's why the law was good.
But for his 2 percent -- (laughter) -- Peter particularly played a very courageous role. It was much easier for Joe Lieberman to agree with Collins and me than it was for Peter to do that. The then-chairman of the House Armed Services Committee was strongly opposed to the bill, Duncan Hunter. And there was a press conference at one point of the three of us, and in the middle of it Peter walked in and said, "I'm here to help," and it really was a big deal. And I thank you for that.
At any rate, finally, I think the law, as I've said many times, is 50 percent law and 50 percent leadership. I think its implementation has been mixed. There's much more of a bureaucracy there than we intended. We intended this as a joint command structure modeled after Goldwater-Nichols, with a strong leader who would break down stovepipes, force 16 different personnel systems and cultures to work together. And in some ways it's worked well; in some ways it hasn't. I think there's a big opportunity for President "McBama" to invest more in this and get a very strong leader at the top, and then I think it will work better.
REPRESENTATIVE PETER HOEKSTRA (R-MI): Thanks for the nice introduction and thanks for taking care of all of the other introductions, and thanks to the intel community.
There's a lot of things that Jane and I agree on, and we did put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into putting the intel reform bill together. And I think she's absolutely right. Part of it was the actual structure of the bill, and part of it, a good part of it, is leadership. And I don't think we've gotten the leadership in moving the direction that we wanted to go. We saw a strong leadership. We saw a lean DNI. And the DNI has gotten much bigger than what I think Jane and I and Susan and Joe ever expected it to be.
It has also moved into taking on more of the functions of the intelligence community and moving them out of the different agencies, moving them into the office of the DNI, which is what we really never envisioned except for some key critical areas. And there are some more of those responsibilities, which dilutes the capability of the DNI to focus on strategic direction.
You know, Jane hasn't been on the Intel Committee for this session of Congress, and we miss her greatly. But, you know, there have been a couple of instances where you go and say, "Yes, this is exactly what we need the DNI to do and the office of the DNI to do," and I can't get into particulars, but where their intent was to set a strategic direction and have the implementation go on in the various agencies.
There have been a number of areas where you just go and say, "Oh, man." You know, we need strategic direction here. Jane and I have worked very -- overhead architecture is one where there has not been a national plan for overhead architecture for probably the last decade. It is one of the areas where we thought it really needed to take place.
We're talking about large expenditures of money. We are talking about programs that take years to move from, you know, inception to actually flying in space. So you need a strategic -- and we still don't have them; so an area where we expect it and were hoping that the DNI would make it their number one priority. They haven't. And maybe we'll get into this a little bit more.
But the other area that I'm very, very disappointed, and part of it is leadership in this administration. I think we really saw the DNI as providing the opportunity for Congress to do more effective oversight, and that hasn't happened this administration, and I think we saw it again this morning with what happened with North Korea, where the administration hasn't been forthright and has not been open. That doesn't mean it's not open with the American people. It hasn't been open with the Intelligence Committee in giving us information on North Korea that we have demanded to be briefed on, and it's kind of like "We'll get to it later," and it's kind of like that's really not an option.
And I think the other thing that Jane and I really agree on -- we saw the DNI as providing the opportunity to rebuild the credibility of the intelligence community of being a nonpartisan organization that would be excellent in the work that they did, but they would not be involved in the policy. They would provide the information to us, and that was their job. And whether it's the administration or whether it's the leadership in the intel community, they haven't been able to re-establish that credibility as an independent part of the government that is focused on something, you know, a real specialty.
HELMAN: As you both are well aware, one of the key recommendations of the 9/11 commission and the objectives of the reform act was to bring down the walls of the intelligence community to better integrate the agencies of the community. DNI has placed that as a priority and it's put significant resources against that. What's your assessment of progress to date in that effort?
HARMAN: Well --
HOEKSTRA: I think --
HARMAN: Do you want to go ahead?
HOEKSTRA: Sure. I mean, I think in certain areas -- like I said, certain areas you go through and you say, "Yes." I mean, on certain key tasks, targeting countries -- I mean, they for the first time have developed strategic plans to go against targets where they bring in all the different agencies and say, "What can you bring to this task, and how does it coordinate? Or are you coordinated with other folks?" And you say, "Yeah, this is exactly what we wanted to do." In other areas you just kind of look at it and say it's no different.
And I'll tell you -- and Jane alluded to it -- the startup of the DNI and the implementation of the intel reform was almost impossible during the period of John Negroponte and Donald Rumsfeld. You know, Donald Rumsfeld was not a willing participant in intel reform, and from my perspective fought it every step of the way. And when you have as much of the budget going through the Department of Defense and as many of these people who are uniformed people, the leadership in the Pentagon, saying all the right things publicly, but from my perspective, in the back room saying, "Screw it; we're not buying into this," and, you know, it just made it very difficult.
HARMAN: Let me add to that. There are two budgets, the National Intelligence Program and the Military Intelligence Program. And the budgetary authorities in the law really are adequate. We had a dear friend in the administration, at OMB at the time, who was very helpful. The gender and name of this person shall remain classified. (Laughter.) But this person was very helpful to us in crafting the budgetary authorities.
Nonetheless, as we observed, as the law began to be implemented, the MIP was eating the NIP. (Laughter.) Sound bite, but it was true. And there was enormous push-back by the committee on a bipartisan basis against this, because the goal was to put resources behind this effort to leverage the capabilities of 16 agencies, to have them working together rather than separately, just the way Goldwater-Nichols has leveraged the capability of our military.
A couple of things are improved. There is the ability now to move personnel around. There is more diversity. This is a big deal. There is more language training. But this weekend I was telling Peter -- I was the token Obama super-delegate at the AEI annual retreat in Beaver Creek. I was there to infiltrate. And I was on a panel on intelligence, and Reuel Marc Gerecht was disagreeing with everything I was saying. But then after I spoke, he talked about the CIA and the need for additional changes there in terms of recruitment and deployment. And he's right. We still haven't got there.
It's a big challenge. The Cold War is over. We can't do these things anything like the way we used to do them. If we want to learn what Osama is up to, we have to have ways to penetrate his inner circle. And recruiting even our best and brightest off our college campuses is probably not going to get us there very fast.
So the other part of the answer is, even though there are some constructive changes that have come out of this law, we've got to get our heads around a very, very different world with very, very different threats. And the IC probably still has to change an enormous amount more in order to provide the accurate and actionable and non-political intelligence that our policymakers need.
HOEKSTRA: And I think, you know, when we've looked at doing it, the amount of change that we saw was not just about information-sharing and breaking down and those types of things. I think the other thing that we were really looking at is we were looking at strategic direction and speed.
The intel community was -- and we quite frankly talk about, you know, the intel community in the '70s and '80s, and the paradigm was you need to be one step faster than the former Soviet Union. You don't have to be very fast to be faster than them. And what you now need is you need to be as quick or faster than al Qaeda and these different types of organizations, which are learning organizations. They are adapting organizations. They're working in real time, and we're still working in a bureaucratic model.
And so the amount of transformation that we saw was necessary. We are not anywhere close to getting to that type of transformation. I mean, the decision-making process that goes on through the ODNI -- and I think this is one of my big disappointments of the current model -- is we've added another layer of bureaucracy, another layer of decision-making, which is what we never -- we intended the DNI to strip out the organization and streamline decision-making, and really they've just become another layer of bureaucracy that reviews the decisions that have been made before. And, you know, the process has just not gotten to where it is (a quick one ?).
The other thing that we have now found is that, on the Intel Committee, we go ask -- you know, we used to be able to go to the CIA, go to NSA, and we'd ask them for information. Now we go to them and we ask them for information and they'll say, "Oh, if you need that, you've got to go to the ODNI first and you've got to go through the ODNI person." It's like, "Oh." And so now, instead of getting something in 48 hours, it now even takes us longer to get information.
HELMAN: What would you propose to fix that?
HOEKSTRA: I was just going to say -- yeah.
HOEKSTRA: Leadership. This is leadership, sharing the vision that we had in place. I mean, there's nothing in the law that says the DNI has to be an extra review step. It is the process that they have put in place. This is about leadership saying, "We are going to streamline this organization. We are going to make it into a 21st century type of organization. We are going to follow best practices in the business world as to how to make this happen." They are still locked into a bureaucratic CYA model.
HARMAN: And one more comment. When we did this, I think we imagined that the bureaucracy of the DNI would be the community management crowd, about 500 people, that the Director of Central Intelligence had to do a much more limited management role. But we figured that would be plenty, because the budget -- the leverage that the budget would give this person would do the rest of it. You know, "We won't feed you if you don't do what we ask you to do." That works in government. And so that's what we envisioned. And it took about 10 minutes for the requests to start coming in for billets and buildings and so forth. And on a bipartisan basis -- this I remember -- we may have had our fights along the way, but we have been unified on this issue from day one.
HELMAN: The legislation specifically focused on the counterterrorism mission set, as you made reference to, and included the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center to unify and coordinate the government's effort against terrorism. What's your assessment of that particular mission and how it's been performed?
HOEKSTRA: I think the National Counterterrorism Center actually is working. I think they're doing a relatively good job in coordinating the information, getting it out to the right places. Jane, in her role on Homeland Security, can add some on that. But I think that's an area that I think is working okay.
HARMAN: I think it's working well. Mike Leiter was confirmed -- was sworn in yesterday as the new director of the National Counterterrorism Center. The problems that it has are not its own problems. The problems are getting agencies that are supposed to cooperate with it, like the Department of Homeland Security, to do what they ought to be doing. And the Department of Homeland Security has been quite, in my view, resistant to full cooperation with the NCTC.
One of the ideas that I think is necessary, and my subcommittee on Homeland Security thinks is necessary, is to include state and local law enforcement personnel at the NCTC, helping to design products that are supposed to be shared vertically with law enforcement so that those products provide the information that is useful to first responders in knowing what to look for and what to do.
And there was incredible resistance by the Department of Homeland Security to getting those people hired -- they're really detailed for a year or two years; getting them cleared, that kind of thing. And we had to break down some of those barriers by passing another law directing that it happen. And that's a waste of time.
I mean, we should -- if we learned anything from 9/11, it is first that the terrorists are not going to check our party registration before they blow us up, and second, that to connect the dots, you have to change a need-to-know culture into a need-to-share culture. That doesn't mean every single thing has to be shared. But if you're not going to tell our eyes and ears in all of our communities about information they have to have, then we're pedaling backwards.
HELMAN: As you know, it's been a focused area of the ODNI, information-sharing, both vertically, as you point out, and horizontally across government and foreign allies. What's your assessment broadly of that initiative, particularly in comparison with the time before the legislation?
HOEKSTRA: I think it's one of the areas where they've been successful. I think they're putting in place the systems and those types of things. But again, those are not -- that's one of the facets we were looking at improving. It was not the most critical. But, yeah, they've made progress in that area. The bottom line is the only thing that they could do -- they could only get better, all right, because they were so bad before.
HARMAN: Well, but two big roadblocks that we're working on. One is the clearance system. It is much too hard and it applies -- and it is much too limited. And we've bumped into it in Congress. It takes forever to clear staffers, which seems to me to be unnecessary. So that's one thing.
HOEKSTRA: And really, Jane, it's dependent on the people that you put forward; that is, I think, maybe more of the problem than not. Some of the people that you've recommended for clearance --
HARMAN: Is everyone listening to this? (Laughter.) I don't understand how Pete Hoekstra is (there ?) to do anything, actually.
HOEKSTRA: I can't believe she's doing that. But --
HARMAN: Are we like an old married couple, or what? (Laughter.) But that's one. The other is overclassification. And we've had enormous problems in Congress which are quite amazing. We both participated in the joint inquiry, where the two intelligence committees worked on a bipartisan, bicameral basis -- it was quite a success story -- after 9/11 -- this was before the 9/11 commission reported -- to do a report on what happened. And we wrote this brilliant report; of course it was. And then the effort to get it declassified, or most of it declassified, was pathetic. It was just absolutely pathetic. So we have a big learning curve in Congress.
Today at 10:00 -- (inaudible) -- the House Homeland Security Committee is going to report two bills that go some part of the way toward reducing the amount of material that can be classified and pushing back against the so-called pseudo-classification system, where you label things, mark papers with other markings. There are 100 of them out there -- imagine -- that, again, prevent department B from seeing what department A has prepared.
The only reason to protect information, in my view, is to protect sources and methods. And we should be much more vigilant than we are about that. Protecting your political turf or protecting yourself from embarrassment is not a good reason to classify information or mark it sensitive but unclassified.
HELMAN: You mentioned earlier areas for improvement with executive oversight of the community. As you know, the 9/11 commission also offered some specific recommendations with respect to congressional oversight. And I'd like to read one of the findings and ask your opinion as to how that's -- where progress has been made.
The commission wrote, quote, "Congressional oversight for intelligence and counterterrorism is dysfunctional. Of all our recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important. So long as oversight is governed by current rules and resolutions, we believe the American people will not get the security they want and need," end quote.
So my question to you is, how is Congress working with those reforms as well?
HOEKSTRA: I think there needs -- we need to do more. I mean, I think it's absolutely ludicrous that members can only serve on the Intel Committee for eight years. I mean, it is one of the hardest assignments that you can get. It's something that most of us have never worked on before; just learning the acronyms, learning what NSA does versus MGA versus -- you know, you go through the whole list of folks, and understanding the business. And once you finally get to understand the business, you're gone. And, you know, so they should either extend the term limits to, I think, a minimum of 12 years or remove them completely.
The other thing that you need to do for oversight -- the committees don't have the tools to hammer an agency that doesn't cooperate. All right, I did oversight on the Education Committee, and we had a great time. We got all kinds of information we could access. But we also -- at that point in time we had the media and other -- (inaudible) -- that also had access to the same information. You know, it worked very, very well.
The intel community is a little bit different. And this administration, this administration has made it very difficult for the oversight committees to do their jobs. And I'm not sure exactly what those tools are, but I think that the Intel committees need additional tools to get into the administrations or into the bureaucracies, because they want to withhold information and keep us in the dark. They have. They do. And that's a huge problem.
HARMAN: Can I offer a few harsher comments? (Laughter.)
HOEKSTRA: I didn't think mine were very nice. (Laughter.)
HARMAN: Actually, they weren't very nice, but as follows. I think Congress has done far too little to heed what the 9/11 commission said. I think the 9/11 commission was right. For starters, the intelligence budget is not a discrete budget. It's not presented in a different budget line by OMB. It is sprinkled inside the defense budget in ways that are very hard to figure out.
So Congress comes to this, because of the way we're organized, very disadvantaged. The Appropriations committees, which are the ones that spend the money, don't have a separate intel subcommittee to pull all this stuff out and put it all together and understand it. Obviously that subcommittee, if they had one, would operate in a classified setting.
The Intelligence committees are authorizing committees. But because the budget's all hidden, our power and leverage is modest. I think that's fair. And for many years -- I don't know what's going to happen this year -- the intelligence authorization bill hasn't even passed. The problem is more the Senate than the House, but nonetheless, it's a problem. So we aren't even authorizing -- we -- they aren't even authorizing programs. And then there's no one who really has adequate ability to pull the budget together and see what it looks like.
So the intelligence budget function in Congress is dysfunctional. And if we don't change that -- and that's our problem -- we're not going to have the ability to do the oversight that Peter says -- and he's right -- is absolutely needed.
HELMAN: Before we open up for questions, one last question; kind of the bullet points. Looking forward to the transition that's ahead of us, what would each of you identify as the three top priorities that you would really focus on as we move forward?
HOEKSTRA: The next administration is going to have to build on what we've put in place. They're going to need strong leadership, because I think intel is going to continue, as we refer to it, the tip of the spear in keeping America safe. And so we're going to have to continue these efforts to get to the transformation that we need. So it's going to need strong leadership with great -- with the support of the president to be able to go against the bureaucratic tendencies.
The second thing is repair the relationship with Congress. It is broken. I think that today you'll see me make a lot of nasty comments about this administration and their blocking access to information on North Korea at the time where they are making these kinds of decisions. And from my perspective, you know, informing the Intel Committee is not an option on a timely basis; so repairing the relationship with the Intel committees, and then -- or with the Congress.
And then I think are two. It's rebuilding HUMINT and also overhead architecture. Those are two strategic areas that need, from my perspective, a tremendous amount of work and focus.
HARMAN: I actually agree with every single thing Peter said. I would just add some maybe broader comments that don't focus as much on the nuts and bolts. And the first is that I think the next administration needs to have a public dialogue, and obviously a dialogue with Congress, about a legal framework around all of our post-9/11 policies.
The Supreme Court, as we've all seen, is pushing back on some of the things that Congress enacted and some of the activities of this administration that weren't even -- didn't even involve laws that Congress passed. I think it is past time for us to have a public conversation about the fact that we can have security and liberty at the same time if we respect our laws and our Constitution. And so that would be one bigger comment.
My second comment is I think -- I agree with Peter that intelligence is the tip of the spear. There's so much more we could do with good information. Good intelligence doesn't guarantee good policy, but bad intelligence is less likely to lead to good policy. So I think making sure that the intelligence we get is apolitical and is as accurate as we can get and is before policymakers who don't cherry-pick and hype it but take it on its face would go a long way to helping the "McBama" administration make much better policy in a very troubled world.
HELMAN: Before we open up to questions, just a few reminders. Please stand -- do we have microphones today? We have microphones. Please stand, state your name and your affiliation, and please keep in mind, today we are on the record.
QUESTIONER: Arnaud de Borchgrave, CSIS. How would the panelists describe, in the context of transformation, the ideal attributes and skills for an intelligence officer over the next 20 years?
HOEKSTRA: I think it's your turn to go first, Jane. (Laughter.)
HARMAN: Well, it's hard to answer that in a vacuum, Arnaud. You have to first try to understand what are the threats against us likely to be, and we're counting on you -- Joe is -- why don't you tell everyone where you're going?
HELMAN: I'm headed to the WMD Commission, WMD -- prevention of WMD terrorism and proliferation, as the director of intelligence. So we are looking at this obvious high-priority issue.
And I think the total skills that intelligence officers need to bring to the table certainly are familiar to this audience -- the language, the training, the exposure, the broad-based education, the willingness to do the tough jobs. I think they're familiar.
HARMAN: Well, I would just add to that, though, as Reuel Garecht was saying the other day, I think we have to think out of the box in terms of the people we recruit. And for starters, they have to come from other cultures, speak other languages, look like the targets we're trying to penetrate. And that is going to take some work with our clearance system.
We proposed a multi-tiered clearance system several years ago. I don't know if it's happened yet. But the notion was that if Grandma lives in Baghdad, that doesn't mean you can never get a security clearance. It means maybe you can't get the full security clearance, but you can get some clearance so that you can provide cultural understanding and language skills, which are critically needed.
It's not just taking a crash language course in Russian anymore. There are all kinds of nuances with some of the languages spoken in the Middle East, and if we don't recruit people who get that, we're not going to have a chance of understanding the material that we're reading or listening to or speaking to other people.
HOEKSTRA: And I think the -- what you're going to need in the officers is the same thing that we need in America. We need Americans and we need case officers, and these folks who are much -- who have a much better grounding in understanding other cultures.
I think if you take a look at what has happened in Iraq, what has happened in the Middle East, it is a lack of understanding, perhaps in the intelligence community, but also in policymakers about the culture -- you know, the tribal nature of the Shi'a versus the Sunni versus the Kurds and you go through all these type of things.
As Americans, we don't spend hardly any time understanding. We think everybody thinks like us and has the same kind of frame of reference, and we do that at great risk to ourselves. By not --
On the Education Committee and that, we are trying to encourage our young people to not only learn the language, but go out and spend time overseas. And that will be of great benefit to us all. I think we need to spend much -- we need to have people spend more time in a particular region of the world to get a better understanding of the complexity of it.
It always amazes me to see our officers. They've served here and they've served there and they've served there, and they've got all the check marks on their passports and they've seen all of the world, but they really don't understand, in depth, any part. And I -- we've got to change the model.
HELMAN: Sir. Right there. No, sorry, behind -- you. We'll get to both.
(Exchange off mike.)
QUESTIONER: I'm John Gannon, formerly of the CIA and now with BAE Systems. I'd like to make two quick assertions and have you agree or disagree with me, and then two questions that come out of it.
When the president signs Executive Order 12333, it will help to clarify roles and responsibilities in the intelligence community, but I think it also is going to enhance the authorities of the DNI. But then the DNI will assert that he does not have the resources nor the skills mix nor the expertise to exercise those authorities.
So the pressure will build to increase the size of the bureaucracy which you have already said that you don't like. So that's the first point. How large a bureaucracy are you going to be satisfied with in order to achieve the goals that the DNI sets for himself, under your guidance?
The second point is that -- I think, Congressman Hoekstra, you said that the original intention was to draw resources out of the 16 agencies to support the DNI. I would assert that that hasn't happened, largely because when the DNI did attempt to do that, he was really not supported by the White House.
The executive branch priorities and the legislative branch priorities have not been aligned, and I think that basically was the fundamental criticism of the 9/11 Commission, both before and after 9/11.
So how do we establish an agenda between the executive branch and the legislative branch where you really can put metrics on it and measure progress, that doesn't break down into the gotcha, mischief-making relationship that has been so dysfunctional, at least in the 25 years that I was in the intelligence community?
HOEKSTRA: The -- I'm perfectly satisfied with the bureaucracy we've already built at the ODNI. It is bigger than what we envisioned in 2004 when we passed the legislation. It's bigger than what Jane and I and Susan and Joe ever thought it would be. I think they've got the resources there to do the job; they just need to change the mindset.
I do believe that when you get 12333 reissued, it will clarify the roles and the responsibilities. I don't buy the assertion that then the DNI -- I agree with you the DNI will say okay, then, I need more people. I don't agree with that premise. I think he can do it -- he or she -- can do it with the number of folks that are already there.
And the second point is how do we get the -- clarity between the executive branch versus the intel -- or between the legislative branch. It's the discussion, the dialogue you go through on every federal agency. You've just got to sit down and you've got to hammer it out.
And we've been -- Jane's exactly right. I'm extremely frustrated because the way for Congress to put its mark in the ground is to pass an authorization bill. And as we again this year fail to pass an authorization bill, we are not able to be a full participant in that dialogue, and the executive branch can disregard us. Because I think this will be the third or fourth year --
HOEKSTRA: -- that we've not passed an authorization bill. So we are irrelevant in that dialogue, and we can't have an impact.
We -- Congress has to be getting back to the point where it's passing an intel authorization bill each and every year so that we can have that discussion with the executive branch as equal partners.
HARMAN: Well, again, just a few additional comments. First of all, thank you to the Gannon family for your service. I'm well aware, I think we both are, of the many things you have done, and do, in the intelligence area.
But the second point, this White House has been absolutely disdainful of Congress, especially in this area.
HOEKSTRA: I've done a good job. (Laughter.)
HARMAN: And this label "war on terror," at least to me, after all these years, makes less and less sense. Terror is a tactic.
There are threats against our country, I don't diminish that for a second, but labeling it this way has enabled this White House to claim that under the president's Article II inherent authority as commander-in-chief -- Jeff Smith can teach you all everything you want to know about this -- that the president at least has a claim to ignore the laws that Congress passes, and has done that very confidently on numerous occasions.
One example is FISA, which took me a long time to figure out. (Chuckles.) But at any rate, that has to change. I would hope that the next president, who will have been a senator and will come, hopefully, with some respect for the Congress-- not that we always deserve it, but it is an institution of government that is critical to checks and balances -- will want to work with Congress and use Article I authorities, and that will serve us well.
And I don't know if the current bureaucracy is the right amount or not. I would hope it would shrink over time because, again, I think of the DNI as a commander leveraging troops from 16 entities. And those troops, presumably, are qualified.
And it would be in our interest to pick the best and brightest out of all these agencies to do a better job of how we recruit and train, and then to have the DNI, as Peter said, and I agree, focus on the strategic issues, not just the tactical issues involving intelligence.
QUESTIONER: Yes, I'm Steve Flanagan from CSIS and a former NIO.
One of the structures that the DNI did sweep up as part of his support structure was the National Intelligence Council. Now, the NIC always supported the DCI, but I hear grumblings from inside that perhaps in this effort to provide more support, particularly for DNI's engagement in Cabinet meetings and other activities, that the estimative process, the long-term mission of the NIC, has suffered. And I wondered if you see that in your oversight activities.
And secondly, despite all of the changes of both the 2004 legislation and things that antedated it -- investments in contrarian analysis and other efforts to try to challenge conventional wisdom -- we've managed to get it very wrong on several key estimates, with real detriment to our credibility as a country.
In fact, I heard a senior E.U. official this week say your record lately on estimates is such that it only reaffirms the need for a separate, independent European collection and analysis capability.
What else can be done? Why are we getting it so bad -- why are we doing so badly, in the estimate of business?
HOEKSTRA: The -- I really can't address the first part of your question. I just haven't heard, and we haven't covered that in oversight -- or at least I've not been part of those meetings. So I'm sorry I can't help you there.
Why do we get it wrong? We need to recognize how degraded our intelligence capabilities were, and -- I don't want to go back to the '90s or whatever. It just -- we got lots of gaps, for lots of different reasons, and it takes a long time to rebuild that up.
And I think -- well, I think Jane and I actually wrote an op-ed together --
HARMAN: We did.
HOEKSTRA: -- that talked about Iran when the latest Iranian NIE came out. And that's basically what we said.
This thing came out with such certainty that with the information that she and I had, we just kind of said we're just very, very reluctant to endorse any NIE because we know what our collection capabilities are versus against -- versus some of our hard targets. And we're just very nervous. Anybody basing estimates with high certainty off of that information set we're just very nervous about.
And the other -- this is just hard. I mean, this whole thing in Syria, that plant was very far along in its process, and we never knew about it. Didn't know about it until shortly before the Israelis went in on it.
And so you've just got to recognize that this is hard, and I think we need to -- when our policymakers talk about making decisions off of intel, they've got to be very, very clear that the intel is incomplete, that there are more things, and they are -- and that intelligence doesn't tell them what to do.
It enables them to make a -- perhaps a more informed decision, but I think too often policymakers are now saying well, this is what the intel says, and so the intel is leading to a specific policy direction, and I think that's wrong. Intel provides a context; it doesn't tell you what to do.
HARMAN: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. Our op-ed on the Iran NIE, though, also said -- and I feel this way after having read it carefully -- that it was a pretty substantial product.
HARMAN: We don't have adequate intelligence on Iran; let me say that again. We do not have adequate intelligence on Iran. And I think that the first sentence of the declassified summary of the NIE was very unfortunate, because that gave the impression that we had a formed opinion and that that was the whole gist of the NIE, which it wasn't.
Taken in context, the fact that Iran had stopped developing a nuclear bomb, or we think so, in 2003 was one of a number of facts. But in context, Iran remained dangerous, had all kinds of dual-use capability. This has all been in the public press.
And at any rate, I -- just basing policy on that, which we did not do, would have been a big mistake.
HOEKSTRA: Yeah. And I have no problem with the E.U. or others having a separate collection. I think an independent voice was helpful in comparing the notes.
HELMAN: We have many questions today. I would ask that please limit yourself to one question and please keep them brief.
HARMAN: Hi, Carrie (sp)!
QUESTIONER: Hi, Jane, how are you?
HARMAN: I didn't see you.
QUESTIONER: Because I'm short.
HARMAN: Does everybody know who this person is?
QUESTIONER: No, but I know you're going to tell them now. (Laughter.)
HARMAN: Yeah -- (inaudible). There is no way that would have passed the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 without Carrie LeMack and the families of those who were killed on 9/11. There is absolutely no way. There were all over the Hill; they played the most constructive role, and she still continues to play it.
So I -- for those of you who think we have at least moved some way forward since 9/11, which I do, on a bipartisan basis, it's thanks to this little tiny person over there who's about to ask a question.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. And beware of big heels. And if you could change the marble floors on the Hill, that would be very helpful for us. (Laughter.)
But my actual question is the next step, and Joe brought it up in terms of congressional oversight. And we all know how hard it was to get the intel reform bill, and you've identified the reasons that we need to change congressional oversight. How are we going to get there?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I think the -- you need forceful leadership from the Hill, all right? You need to have people who are willing to stand up and, if need be, criticize the administration or put in place --
Again, you need Congress to do its job. When we don't pass an authorization bill, we can't hold the administration accountable. So Congress has to get its house in order if it expects to be an equal partner through that process. I can't tell you how frustrated I am that the authorization bills keep getting hung up.
And I don't want to say that they are unimportant issues, okay? But the cost of not passing an authorization bill because we don't put in the Army Field Manual -- is -- I think it's a wrong-headed move by Congress where we recognize that when we -- because we failed to realize everything that we give up by not passing it.
We don't put our imprint on HUMINT. We don't put it in on overhead. We don't put it in on budgets and head counts and all of these kinds of things, so they basically blow us off.
HARMAN: Two points. First of all, you're a big part of the answer. Buy higher heels and just keep on moving. (Scattered laughter.) That's part of it.
But the second part is no one's mentioned FISA yet in terms of the law that Congress passed -- that the House passed last week on a bipartisan basis, and I guess the Senate is trying to pass this week. I don't think anything happened yesterday, that I'm aware of.
That actually was good. We found a way to work together to take what was an intractable problem and forge a bipartisan compromise. It wasn't perfect, but Peter and I actually sat down about eight months ago and scribbled on an envelope six or seven things we could agree to as a compromise forward on FISA. And all of those are in this law that the House passed 300 to 100 last week.
So yeah, we're really smart. But the point is that occasionally the institution can work. And now we have to change the way -- some basic operating principles to make it work like that most of the time.
HOEKSTRA: I think Jane brings up a great point. On national security, on intel, if there is the will, you can work in a bipartisan basis and turn out, I think, an exceptional product. Not a perfect product, but an exceptional product.
And I think the reason that the two of us get along as well as what we do, we have experienced a sense of accomplishment by putting aside our personal agendas and getting a product done that neither one of us would have -- it doesn't match what either one of us would have written on our own, but we recognize that by putting those things aside, we've done a pretty good piece of work.
And I think all four of us felt that way about the intel reform bill, that the end product was just -- it was kind of the thrill of victory, of getting it done and the satisfaction of doing it in a bipartisan basis on something that we think really makes a difference to the security of the country each and every day.
And it -- we get into our political spats every once in a while, but we have more fun getting something done than having the political fights.
HARMAN: Hear, hear.
HELMAN: Mr. McLaughlin, sir.
QUESTIONER: John McLaughlin with Johns Hopkins University. Intelligence, as you know, has always been a risky business --
HELMAN: The mike?
QUESTIONER: John McLaughlin at Johns Hopkins/SAIS University.
As you know, intelligence has always been a risky business, and I'm curious to know if you're satisfied at this point with the propensity of our intelligence community to take risks and what your thoughts are about the role of Congress in encouraging that kind of culture.
HOEKSTRA: No, I don't think the community is willing to take the risks that I think they need to take to be effective, and I think Congress is probably a big part of the problem.
Because if the community goes out and takes a risk and makes a mistake, they get hammered. And you're right; it's an extremely risky and tough business, and we should recognize that.
I tell the story when I went to work, when I was working at Herman Miller, the first product line I was a key part of playing a role in as a marketing executive failed miserably. The second one failed miserably, and as we -- as I got assigned to the third product my boss said, you know, we can't afford to fire you. We've invested so much in your learning process, you're bound to get it right one of these times. (Laughter.)
HARMAN: He continued that performance in Congress.
HOEKSTRA: That's right. (Laughter.)
But the -- you know, when I take a look at what you do in the intel community, it's inherently more difficult and more complicated than what I ever did in the private sector.
So we have to acknowledge and recognize that if we're going to have the kind of community we want and the results we want, we're have to encourage you to take risk. And that we have to recognize that when you take risk that sometimes you're going to be wrong, and something bad's going to happen one way or another, and be accepting of that, and maybe even encouraging of that.
Because what you see now on overhead structure and some of the decisions that they're making is to make sure they don't make a mistake, they don't make a decision. And it's kind of like -- and here we sit three years later, no decision yet because no one wants to take responsibility because they might get it wrong.
HARMAN: Actually, I think Congress has been, on a bipartisan basis, encouraging the community to take risks.
HOEKSTRA: No way! No way!
HARMAN: It's certainly --
HOEKSTRA: No way! You're wrong! No! (Laughter.)
HARMAN: There he is. (Inaudible.)
HOEKSTRA: I mean, I think it's my responsibility that when you're wrong, to point it out. I mean, that --
HARMAN: All right. But can you let -- fine. (Inaudible.)
HOEKSTRA: Your staff just said that. They said you're the only one that can keep her in line.
HARMAN: My -- my husband would applaud it if you could do that. But he's not here.
Congress has been more encouraging of risk taking, and we have demanded good information from briefers, which we haven't always gotten, as Peter points out. He's right about that. Ahem.
But I think this administration in many ways has been disdainful of the intelligence community trying to tell their version of the truth.
I remember some products coming back from Iraq that I read in the Committee during the dark periods post-military action -- Peter, are you listening? --
HOEKSTRA: I'm -- yeah.
HARMAN: -- that were extremely sobering about the conditions on the ground. And at least I believe they were right. And the people who wrote those products didn't have good outcomes. There may have been other reasons why they were not so terrific; I have no idea. But I remember one case in particular that, at least according to the facts I have, was very unfair.
And take the Iran NIE. The people who wrote that have been pilloried for writing a political product. I agree that the first sentence of the declassified summary was extremely unfortunate. It made it look like the whole report was about how Iran is no longer dangerous, which was not what the report said. But I actually think the process of writing that was a better process than applied to prior NIEs, and yet these people got slammed.
So we're sending mixed signals. Congress wants better briefings; you can't say you disagree with that.
HOEKSTRA: I can, but I (won't ?).
HARMAN: Watch -- he's going to back off of his comments that were overstated.
Congress wants better materials. Congress says we want people to take more risks. That is what we say; we don't have a lot of power because of the dysfunctional process we operate in, but then the administration -- or at least some in the administration -- punish those who take risks. So that has to be corrected in the next administration.
HELMAN: Ms. Baird.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Zoe Baird from the Markle Foundation.
I'm going to go back to something you were talking about earlier when you were talking about the importance of good information for policymaking. And I think the NCTC has been really a gem in its understanding of the role you gave it and in implementing it very fast.
One of the reasons it has been particularly successful is that it's been very focused on the limitations of its legal authority as well as the authority you've given it. But that's led to its being reluctant to use domestic information and integrate that into intelligence assessments as much as it might.
And Jane, going back to the comment you made earlier about the need for a look at comprehensive reform, I wonder to what extent your thinking and to what extent the intelligence committee is thinking about working with the judiciary committee and other committees to look at how better to really create robust information that goes beyond just that which resides within the intelligence community, but which is able to draw on information that's not collected within the intelligence community and share information outside the intelligence community, and try to address some of these limitations on what the NCTC and others are able to do while at the same time creating public trust.
HARMAN: Well, let me first applaud the Markle Foundation for the work that you have done on how to build databases from the outside in, with bells and whistles so that we are not -- I hope we are not - creating Big Brother in the way we amass information to look for that needle in the haystack, that dot that is somebody with bad intentions, maybe living in America, trying to attack us. And Markle was invaluable as we crafted the intel reform bill of 2004 in helping us try to get that right, and has been helpful since, too, on the way we do this.
On information collection and sharing inside the United States, which is what you're asking about, Zoe, it's a radioactive subject. There are now things called fusion centers, which many of you may know about, maybe not all of you, which have been formed. There're little NTSC at the local level formed by different layers of government operating locally to try to fuse information.
And they have built into them, to some extent, privacy and civil liberties protection. But to the extent the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, cooperates with them, we're trying to work on more robust training, more review of the databases that they put together.
Everybody has familiarity with the totally inaccurate watch lists we use for air travel that are quite embarrassing. We're trying to perfect that, but obviously it's not good enough.
So we have to put this stuff together. We have to do it sensitive to the fact that there is a Fourth Amendment and a system of laws in America that requires you to do special things when you're targeting an American.
But that's a line we just walked in the FISA reform amendment. We can think this through, get it right. And my view, my answer to you is that is why, in the next administration, we need to have a public dialogue about a new legal framework. And it will involve the judiciary committee in Congress. There's no way it can't, in crafting that framework. And it will involve the Justice Department as well as the intelligence community in crafting that framework.
But we have wasted a lot of years in not doing this, and I think that's a huge challenge for the next administration.
HOEKSTRA: I actually think Jane's got that answer right.
HARMAN: He's trying to make up. Should I forgive him?
HARMAN: Let's do a show of hands.
HELMAN: In the spirit of Council meetings, we have a tradition of ending on time. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our speakers for coming today and for their frank and honest comments. Thank you very much.
And to our participants. Thank you all very much.
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