INTELLIGENCE: Major Reform Plans Compared

February 7, 2005

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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What are the differences among the competing congressional proposals to reform the U.S. intelligence community?

Congress is considering two different proposals. The Senate passed a bill October 6 strongly influenced by the recommendations of the 9/11 Commissionthat would create a national intelligence director (NID) post with sweeping authority over intelligence agency budgets and personnel. A competing bill sponsored by House Republicans and passed October 8 would also establish a NID but with more limited powers. The House bill also includes several provisions on border security and immigration; some critics say these provisions are too harsh and decrease the chances that the House and Senate will agree on a final bill. Others say both pieces of legislation are hasty and ill-advised attempts to resolve a complicated problem. Still, many lawmakers say intelligence reform, a hotly debated issue in the presidential campaign, is likely to be passed in some form, possibly even before the November 2 elections.

What are the major elements of the Senate bill?

On October 6, the Senate voted 96-2 to pass the Collins-Lieberman National Intelligence Reform Act. The bill was co-authored by Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of theSenate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and addresses all 41 of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. It is supported by the White House, the 9/11 Commission, and many families of 9/11 victims. The bill’s major provisions:

  • Create a National Intelligence Director as head of the intelligence community and principal adviser to the president, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission. The NID will have budget authority over the intelligence program and will submit a unified intelligence budget to the president. He or she will also have full authority to transfer funds and personnel between agencies. The NID will coordinate foreign and domestic intelligence and take "clear responsibility and accountability for counterterrorism and other intelligence matters relating to the national security of the United States." The 9/11 Commission recommended that this post be part of the office of the president, but the Senate bill makes the position head of an independent agency not in the White House.
  • Create a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to coordinate the work of the nation’s intelligence agencies, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission. The NCTC would be responsible for coordinating intelligence efforts and operational planning across agencies. For example, it would evaluate foreign and domestic intelligence about terrorist threats from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), CIA, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies, issue warnings about U.S. preparedness, and assign defensive operations to the appropriate agency.
  • Create a Civil Liberties Board to protect the civil rights and privacy of citizens and to act as a watchdog organization over government agencies fighting terrorism.
  • Establish an Analytic Review Unit in an ombudsman’s office to evaluate intelligence analysis and ensure that the intelligence provided by the NID is not politically influenced.
  • Establish an information-sharing network to facilitate flows of 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.
  • Invest in technologies to make borders, transportation, and critical infrastructure safer.
  • Promote outreach to the Muslim world--including increasing aid to Afghanistan, renewing aid for Pakistan, and opening new channels for dialogue with Arab countries--to try to slow terrorist recruiting.
  • Declassify the National Intelligence Program’s total annual appropriation in order to promote public accountability. The current annual total devoted to intelligence is thought to be around $40 billion, much of it controlled by the Pentagon.

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

The Senate 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 Senate bill does not directly address a key commission recommendation: the creation of a single congressional committee with responsibility for overseeing the work of the intelligence agencies. Currently, dozens of House and Senate committees and subcommittees deal with intelligence, a situation the 9/11 Commission calls "dysfunctional." The Senate has appointed a task force to examine ways to implement the commission’s recommendations on this issue.

How does the House plan compare to the Senate plan and the 9/11 Commission recommendations?

There is some overlap, but the House bill also contains some significant differences in key areas. The 9/11 Commission Recommendations Implementation Act is backed by House Republicans, including Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). It also creates a NID, but limits the position’s power; it creates an NCTC and a civil liberties board; invests in programs to improve the image of the United States in the Muslim world; supports an information-sharing network; declassifies the aggregate figure appropriated for intelligence annually; and endorses more streamlined congressional oversight of intelligence operations. However, the House bill modifies some elements of the Senate bill and adds others.

What is modified?

The most significant change is that the NID proposed in the House bill is granted limited budget authority--and therefore much less power--than the director in the Senate bill. The NID will not take charge of a unified intelligence budget, for example, and will only "participate" with the secretary of defense in the development of the defense intelligence budget. The House bill also places strict guidelines on the NID’s ability to shift funds or personnel from one intelligence agency to another.

What new elements are added?

The House bill gives law enforcement officials expanded authority in a range of areas. These include:

  • Increased powers to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely, and new authority to deport suspects to nations known to use torture. The deportee would have to show "clear and convincing evidence" that he would be tortured at home in order to halt the process.
  • The bill would also integrate border security into a nationwide screening system that would protect sensitive areas like transportation hubs and nuclear sites. It would establish a biometric screening system for all people entering or exiting the United States, require airlines to provide information on passengers to check against "no-fly" lists; and establish national standards for issuing identity documents like passports and drivers’ licenses to prevent fraud. Critics say the bill extends provisions of the Patriot Act that, they assert, threaten civil liberties and could discriminate against certain groups.

What happens next?

The bills go to a conference committee, where House members and senators will try to devise a compromise proposal to submit to both chambers for another vote. Congressional leaders plan to call members back to Washington to vote on the new proposal. If the new bill passes, it will be sent to President Bush.

What is the president’s position on intelligence reform?

He says he backs it and vows to sign a bill to implement it.

Has President Bush’s position on the issue shifted over time?

Yes. Initially resistant to the commission’s proposals, he endorsed some of the commission’s recommendations in a statement August 2. Bush agreed with the idea of a national counterterrorism center and a national intelligence director post, but without Cabinet rank or full budget authority for the NID. Then, on September 8, Bush modified his position and saidthat he supports giving strong budgetary authority to a NID. Specifically, he proposed giving the national intelligence director control over the approximately 70 percent of the intelligence budget not related specifically to military operations. The director would take charge of the budget of the National Foreign Intelligence Program, which accounts for nearly half the nation’s intelligence budget. The NID would be assisted by a new Cabinet-level Joint Intelligence Community Council, which will advise the NID and coordinate the intelligence community to protect national security. However, Bush stopped short of fully supporting the 9/11 Commission’s proposals. His intelligence director would not be based in the White House, and the Pentagon would retain control over intelligence-gathering relating to military planning.

What has the president done to enact these reforms?

On August 27, the president signed an executive order that gave the CIA director expanded authority to develop a national intelligence budget and transfer funds from one intelligence program to another, as well as increased budget authority over programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), andNational Reconnaissance Office. White House officials said these expanded powers were interim measures until a national intelligence director was named. Another order created a National Counterterrorism Center, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission, to act as the government’s data bank on terror and monitor of counterterrorism operations. A third executive order directed the nation’s intelligence agencies to better share information; and a fourth created an advisory board to safeguard civil liberties.

What is at stake in the debate over intelligence reform?

The fate of the intelligence community--which is made up of 15 agencies and has tens of thousands of employees--and control the annual intelligence budget. The Pentagon oversees some 80 percent of these funds and, experts say, will fight to keep that budgetary control. Pentagon officials have also expressed concern that wholesale intelligence reform would threaten "warfighter support," the ability to get military intelligence to soldiers on the battlefield.

Is there opposition to intelligence reform?

Yes. The Defense Department and the leaders of powerful Senate committees overseeing defense and intelligence--whose control over funding would be threatened by a NID with strong budget powers--are determined to protect their territory, experts say, and other critics call the reforms proposed by Congress too broad and too quick to be effective. In a statement released September 21, several senior intelligence and security officials expressed their concern. "Racing to implement reforms on an election timetable is precisely the wrong thing to do," the statement said. The statement was signed by former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former defense secretaries Frank Carlucci and William Cohen, former deputy secretary of defense John Hamre, former CIA director Robert Gates, and former senators David Boren, Gary Hart, Sam Nunn, Bill Bradley, and Warren Rudman.

Does the intelligence community agree on what reforms should take place?

No. "Most people would rather work within the current institutions and just improve them," says Heather Kiriakou, the 2003-04 intelligence fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has since returned to work at the agency. She says the intelligence community thinks any potential reforms should focus on a more equitable distribution of resources. "Most of the intelligence that goes to the president comes from the CIA," she says, "but most of the budget is in the Pentagon. People ... want to fix what’s really wrong." Nevertheless, Kiriakou agrees that reform is necessary. "We have way too many intelligence lines out there to be useful to the policy-makers," she says. The answer, she argues, is streamlining the nation’s intelligence community to get rid of "competing and duplicative efforts."

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