INTELLIGENCE: National Intelligence Czar

February 7, 2005

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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Does the United States need a national intelligence czar?

The 9/11 Commission report released July 22 recommends that Congress create a Cabinet-level post to oversee and control the 15 agencies that make up the so-called national intelligence community. Proponents say the new director will be able to reorganize those agencies and fix the lapses uncovered by the 9/11 Commission and other panels that have examined U.S. intelligence-gathering. Pressure to reform the system is mounting: a July 9 Senate Select Intelligence Committee report found that flawed analysis and poor management led the intelligence community to overstate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. George J. Tenet stepped down as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) a few days before the Senate report was released.

What are the counterarguments?

Some experts, officials, and lawmakers say that creating the new post will merely add another layer of bureaucracy and won’t address core problems such as weak data-collection capabilities and shortages of expert personnel. "Appointing a director of national intelligence will solve an immediate political need. But it’s at best a superficial fix," says Ellen Laipson, the president of the Henry L. Stimson Center and a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

Who oversees the U.S. intelligence community now?

The director of central intelligence (DCI)--a post currently filled by acting director John E. McLaughlin--is responsible both for running the CIA and managing the entire U.S. intelligence community. However, the CIA chief does not have the power to hire or fire the heads of the other agencies. In addition, some 80 percent of the intelligence community’s annual budget--which totals an estimated $40 billion--is controlled by the Pentagon. "The DCI has lots of responsibility without a comparable amount of authority, especially over resources," says Heather Kiriakou, the 2003-04 intelligence fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a CIA analyst.

How many people work in U.S. intelligence agencies?

The exact number is classified. Jeffrey Richelson, an intelligence expert who is a senior fellow at the National Security Archive at The George Washington University, estimates the total to be about 100,000. Included in that figure are some 20,000 employees at the CIA, some 40,000 in the National Security Agency (NSA), which collects and processes foreign telephone, radio, and other kinds of so-called signal communications and safeguards U.S. communications, and 7,000 in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which coordinates intelligence among the military services.

What would a new director of national intelligence do?

Appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, he would have the authority to manage many parts of the intelligence budget, appoint and fire key personnel, have access to all intelligence produced, and be the top authority on intelligence matters in discussions with the president and other executive branch officials, according to bills introduced in the House and the Senate. He would also develop and enforce standards and policy for the entire intelligence community and coordinate its relationships with foreign intelligence organizations. Day-to-day responsibility for running the 15 intelligence agencies would fall to the directors of each.

How much control would the director have over military intelligence?

It depends. The House bill introduced by Representative Jane Harman (D-Cal.) would allow the secretary of defense to retain primary budgetary and programming control over military intelligence. The Senate bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.)would transfer budget power to the new director. Under the 9/11 Commission plan, the new director would manage all agencies except for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps intelligence services.

Which of the 15 intelligence agencies fall under the Pentagon’s jurisdiction?

What are the other intelligence agencies?

Why are there so many agencies?

The intelligence community developed over decades as policy-makers responded to new threats and priorities. When the CIA was created in 1947, it was designed to complement, not replace, the military intelligence agencies that had collected information in World War II, according to a CIA-authored historical overview. The NSA was created in 1952 to be a center for signals intelligence collection; the DIA was created in 1961 to better coordinate military intelligence after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba; and the NRO was founded that same year to handle the new field of satellite surveillance.

Are there benefits to having multiple intelligence agencies?

Creative tension among analytical agencies is one of the hallmarks of the U.S. intelligence system and is thought to improve the overall quality of analysis. The 1981 Executive Order on Intelligence mandated that "maximum emphasis should be given to fostering analytical competition among ... elements of the intelligence community." John J. Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and a former deputy defense secretary, told a congressional committee July 21 that, "I fear bringing [intelligence operations] all under one chief would seriously threaten what little competition for ideas we have."

In addition, many government agencies use their own intelligence shops to gear analyses specifically to the needs of their personnel, says Michael P. Peters, the executive vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations. For example, the State Department generates intelligence reports targeted to the concerns of diplomats.

How well do these agencies coordinate?

Often poorly, experts say. The three panels that have recently released public reports on intelligence gathering--the 2002 joint congressional inquiry on 9/11, the Senate Intelligence Committee report, and the 9/11 Commission--highlighted a lack of information-sharing among agencies. (The conclusions of a fourth inquiry, a presidential advisory panel on intelligence reform headed by former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, are classified.) Throughout the intelligence community, coordinating so many diverse agencies is nearly impossible, some analysts say. "There are too many agencies, which makes the intelligence community too decentralized and impedes the ability to coordinate at the ’worker’--or analyst--level," Kiriakou says. "I don’t think 15 agencies all have to have expertise in a particular subject. We could create discrete centers of expertise, perhaps within the CIA, that would bring together experienced analysts," Laipson suggests.

Sometimes the CIA’s role as the lead U.S. intelligence agency creates its own problems, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report. The committee found that the CIA hampered intelligence sharing by keeping some of its sources secret from other analysts, allowed CIA analysts to control the presentation of information to policy-makers, and excluded analysis from other agencies. While the DCI was supposed to function as both the head of the CIA and the head of the intelligence community, "in many instances he only acted as the head of the CIA," the committee found.

How could the creation of a director of national intelligence resolve these problems?

Proponents of the idea say that a director of national intelligence would be authorized to reorganize the intelligence community to make it more responsive to terrorism and other emerging threats. His Cabinet-level status could enhance communication between the intelligence community and the president and, theoretically, his White House-based office wouldn’t be biased toward any one intelligence agency. A director solely devoted to coordinating national intelligence would have more time to do his job than one who is simultaneously managing the CIA, and the CIA director would have more time to make sure that his agency was running properly. In addition, an independent director might be more inclined to make painful or politically difficult reforms, such as layoffs or merging some intelligence agencies.

What would happen to domestic intelligence?

Under the 9/11 Commission’s plan, the national intelligence director would oversee a homeland intelligence division that would include the intelligence units of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. An FBI reorganization would create an elite counterterrorism unit. Some analysts have suggested the creation of a new security agency modeled on Britain’s MI-5 that would merge FBI and CIA intelligence efforts; the 9/11 Commission report does not make this recommendation.

Who are the advocates of the national intelligence czar idea?

It has been endorsed by the 2002 joint congressional committee, the 9/11 Commission, and, reportedly, the classified conclusions of the Scowcroft panel. A number of lawmakers have signed on to pending legislation that would create the post, and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry supports the creation of a director of national intelligence with a 10-year term. "The creation of such a Cabinet-level position will not in itself solve every problem, but it will be an important first step," he said July 16.

Who are the opponents?

Some lawmakers are skeptical, and the leadership of the CIA and Defense Department--which would stand to lose significant control over their personnel and budgets under the plan--have spoken out against it. Acting DCI McLaughlin, in an interview with Fox News Sunday on July 18, said, "The idea of a czar to oversee the entire intelligence community ... doesn’t relate particularly to the world I live in. I think with some modest changes in the way the CIA is set up, the director of central intelligence could carry out that function well and appropriately." Speaking before the 9/11 Commission in March, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that consolidating all the intelligence agencies under a single intelligence czar "would do our country a great disservice." Instead of centralizing them, Congress should look at ways to break down barriers between agencies. "Fostering multiple centers of information has proven to be better at promoting creativity and challenging conventional thinking," he said.

What arguments do the opponents make?

"Just putting someone in charge doesn’t fix problems," says Stephen E. Flynn, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Measures must be taken to address the underlying problems of weak data-collection capabilities and shortages of personnel, foreign-language skills, and funding throughout the intelligence and homeland security agencies, he and other experts say. "My concern is that we will see [a director of national intelligence] as a silver bullet," Flynn says.

Some experts are also concerned that a White House-based intelligence czar will be reluctant to bring the president alternative views, independent thinking, or bad news. Other critics say that the new director will be disconnected from the community he is representing and, therefore, ineffective. It would be similar, says Richelson, to appointing a defense czar who didn’t actually manage the Pentagon. Robert M. Gates, the DCI under President George H.W. Bush, argued in a June 8 New York Times op-ed that the new director would likely have insufficient authority. "You can bet that any provisions transferring Pentagon agencies and their budgets to the new office would be watered down and compromised into meaningless verbiage. ... The intelligence czar would, in fact, be an intelligence eunuch," he wrote.

What alternatives do opponents offer?

  • Enlarge the DCI’s powers: Instead of creating a new director, Congress could give the DCI more budgetary and hiring authority to manage the intelligence community and permit him to further delegate to a deputy the day-to-day running of the CIA. This option would retain the CIA’s central role in the intelligence community. Another idea: give the DCI a fixed-term that bridges presidential administrations, thereby making him "nonpolitical," a suggestion McLaughlin made in the Fox News interview. Currently, the DCI serves at the president’s pleasure.
  • Fix things from the bottom up. Increase expertise among analysts, improve management and quality control, and ease information sharing among agencies, instead of focusing on creating a new office. "I think that rather than the quick fix, it’s much more worthwhile, while we have the political will, to address all the issues," Kiriakou says.
  • Reduce redundancies. Reduce the total number of intelligence agencies and reorganize them under the current DCI.

Does President Bush support the intelligence czar idea?

He has not ruled it out, but neither has he endorsed it. He said July 19, in advance of the release of the 9/11 Commission report, that its expected recommendations "are necessary: such as more human intelligence, better ability to listen or to see things, and better coordination amongst the variety of intelligence-gathering services."

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