INTELLIGENCE: Intelligence Reform

February 16, 2005

Backgrounder
Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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What does the intelligence reform bill do?

The National Intelligence Reform Act, which was strongly influenced by the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, dramatically overhauls the U.S. intelligence-gathering bureaucracy. It creates a director of national intelligence (DNI) and places him or her in charge of intelligence-agency budgets and personnel. The Senate and House passed different versions of the bill in October 2004, and congressional negotiators worked out a compromise bill that was scheduled for a November 2004 vote. House opponents balked at the revised legislation, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) declined to send the bill to the floor. Presidential pressure revived the bill, which became law on December 17, 2004.

Which issues delayed passage of the bill?

Key Republican members of the House of Representatives claimed that some provisions of the comprehensive restructuring of the nation’s intelligence community could threaten national security by interfering with U.S. troops’ access to battlefield intelligence and by failing to restrict drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants. Congressional and White House negotiators resolved the military issue, which appeared to be the main sticking point, and put off the license dispute.

What were the opponents’ main objections?

There were two key grievances, each backed by a powerful House committee chairman. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pushed for several immigration and law enforcement measures that had been in the House version of the bill, including the limit on licenses for immigrants who enter the United States illegally. Sensenbrenner was angry the provisions he backed were dropped from the final version of the legislation, which he called "woefully incomplete. "Duncan Hunter (R-Cal.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was concerned that the new intelligence structure would interfere with what the Pentagon calls "warfighter support"—getting military intelligence to soldiers on the battlefield. Hunter’s concerns were allayed when negotiators added language to the bill explicitly preventing intelligence officials from interfering in the military chain of command.

What were the details of Hunter’s argument?

Hunter, a Vietnam veteran with a son in the Marine Corps, was concerned about provisions that shifted responsibility

for key intelligence operations from the Pentagon to the DNI. A central issue was whether the Pentagon would have priority access to satellite images from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Both are currently Defense Department agencies that will, under the terms of the reform bill, report to the DNI. Some experts say Hunter represents the feelings of the military establishment, which has long opposed civilian control of technical intelligence collection. The intelligence arms of the military services fought "tooth and nail" in the 1960s against the creation of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which provides military intelligence to the armed forces and lawmakers, says Alton Frye, presidential senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of the Council’s Congress and U.S. Foreign Policy project.

What were the details of Sensenbrenner’s argument?

Sensenbrenner argued that state policies allowing illegal immigrants to apply for drivers’ licenses pose a serious national security risk. Most states require drivers to be legal residents of the United States, but 10 states--including Wisconsin, Sensenbrenner’s home state--do not. He pointed out that the 19 September 11 hijackers possessed a total of 63 drivers’ licenses. Sensenbrenner pushed for a national standard for drivers’ licenses that would deny them to illegal immigrants and, in the case of temporary visitors, link the expiration date on the license to the end date of the visitor’s visa.

Was there opposition to intelligence reform from otherquarters?

Yes, although the bill steadily gained support. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a letter to Congress in October arguing that control over three intelligence agencies that provide combat support--the National Security Agency (NSA), the NGA, and the NRO--should stay with the Pentagon. On December 2, 2004, however, Myers said measures in the compromise bill had addressed his concerns. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has opposed the idea of centralized control over the nation’s intelligence operations in the past, but eventually said he would support President Bush’s position.

What are the bill’s major elements?

The National Intelligence Reform Act will:

  • Create a National Intelligence Authority to coordinate the efforts of the nation’s intelligence community. This new office will be independent of the Executive Office of the President and will oversee 11 of the 15 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.
  • Create a DNI to head the National Intelligence Authority. The DNI will be the principal intelligence adviser to the president and have responsibility for counterterrorism and intelligence related to national security, but will not be a member of the Cabinet. The DNI will have budgetary authority over the country’s civilian intelligence program and will "participate" with the defense secretary in creating the budget for military intelligence programs. The DNI will also be responsible for submitting a national intelligence budget to the president.
  • Create a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to coordinate the work of the nation’s intelligence agencies, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

Which agencies fall under the DNI’s authority?

The intelligence arms of each military service--the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines-would remain under the direct control of the Defense Department.

What else would the bill do?

  • Establish a unified network to share more intelligence information among federal, state, and local agencies and the private sector. Each intelligence agency currently has its own database that only its members can access.
  • Declassify the annual intelligence budget. The current annual total is thought to be around $40 billion, much of it controlled by the Pentagon.
  • Create a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to monitor government counterterrorism agencies for violations of civil and privacy rights.
  • Establish an Analytic Review Unit in an ombudsman’s office to take a second look at National Intelligence Estimates and other analytical products to ensure their accuracy and search for and correct bias.
  • Add border patrol agents, install cameras in baggage-handling areas of airports, increase cargo inspections, and take other measures designed to secure borders, transportation, and critical infrastructure.
  • Promote outreach to the Muslim world in order to improve the image of the United States abroad and stem terrorist recruiting.

Does the bill differ from the 9/11 Commission proposal?

The bill is largely faithful to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. In its July 22 report on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the commission called for an overhaul of the nation’s intelligence services to reform the "broken" culture of intelligence-gathering and analysis that failed to prevent the attacks. However, the bill does not directly address a key commission recommendation: the creation of a single congressional committee with responsibility for overseeing the work of the National Intelligence Agency. Currently, more than 80 House and Senate committees and subcommittees deal with intelligence, a situation the 9/11 Commission called "dysfunctional." The Senate has appointed a task force to examine ways to implement the commission’s recommendations on this issue.

— by Esther Pan, staff writer, cfr.org

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