Panel Urges Transfer of NSA, Satellites, Imagery From Pentagon
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2001; Page A01
A high-level presidential commission plans to recommend that the Pentagon's three largest intelligence-collection agencies be transferred to the director of central intelligence in a major restructuring of the intelligence community, according to sources familiar with the panel's findings.
Under the proposal, the National Reconnaissance Office, which develops, builds and manages intelligence satellite systems, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which handles imagery intelligence systems and mapping, and the National Security Agency, which is responsible for electronic intercepts, would each come under the control of the CIA director.
The proposal, which will be delivered to President Bush this month, would constitute the largest overhaul of the U.S. intelligence community in decades and is aimed at helping consolidate programs and reducing rivalries within a massive intelligence-collection bureaucracy that involves 12 separate agencies.
The panel is chaired by retired Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the new chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Bush created the panel in May when he charged CIA Director George J. Tenet with conducting a comprehensive review of the intelligence system. The panel was asked to produce plans for a reorganization of the system to meet the challenges of new threats and technologies.
The panel's conclusions have taken on added significance and may have received a boost in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which exposed serious shortcomings in the country's intelligence operation and prompted calls for reform. Because the panel is headed by Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald R. Ford, it is expected to get serious attention from the White House despite the fact that similarly ambitious restructuring plans have been recommended in the past and failed.
The House and Senate intelligence committees, which have been pushing for greater authority for the CIA director over intelligence-collection operations, are expected to support the plan. The Senate panel said in a report this year that a consolidation of the intelligence system would add a greater degree of accountability.
"We are trying to treat the intelligence community more like a corporation that should have goals and a way to measure success or failure against those goals," said one individual associated with the panel.
All three Pentagon intelligence agencies, which are multibillion-dollar bureaucracies, have their own clout within the government, have traditionally been under the direction of the secretary of defense and are usually headed by uniformed officers. The agencies, whose budgets are classified, account for almost half the $30 billion spent by the government on intelligence each year and dwarf the CIA's budget of $3.5 billion, according to congressional intelligence sources.
Under the Scowcroft panel's plan, the Pentagon would still control intelligence operations that are carried out under the military services' budgets. They include tactical reconnaissance and target acquisition programs that provide direct information support to military operations. The Defense Department would also retain budgetary control over the Defense Intelligence Agency, which does military analysis.
But the Pentagon would cede to the director of the CIA effective control over its three largest intelligence operations, the most sophisticated and far-reaching intelligence-gathering networks deployed by the U.S. government around the world.
A supporter of the panel's plan said the CIA director "needs the ability to set responsibilities and coordinate operations. The Pentagon clearly won't like it but since the Defense Department is going to be his biggest customer, with some 70 percent of the need, the secretary [of defense] will have a major say in what is done."
Even so, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was briefed on the plan by Scowcroft late last week, is expected to strongly oppose the recommendations. A Defense Department official indicated yesterday that Rumsfeld is likely to take issue with several of the proposals "but would express his objection in private to the White House."
A Pentagon official argued yesterday that because so much of today's intelligence collection and dissemination relates to tactical military operations, it makes sense to keep the collection agencies inside the Pentagon.
During the presidential transition period last December and January, when plans for the intelligence review first took hold within the Bush national security team, Rumsfeld was the person in line to be chairman of the commission. This was based on his previous chairmanship of a commission that looked into the foreign missile threat to the United States. Last winter, before Bush nominated him as defense secretary, Rumsfeld was considered a possible candidate for CIA director.
Strong opposition is also expected from the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, which have in recent years diverted money appropriated for Pentagon intelligence activities and used it to fund different procurement and military activities.
Participants in the intelligence review defended the proposed consolidation. "This is the moment in time when we need to do the right thing no matter who loses turf," said one member.
In recent years the National Reconnaissance Office's financial management and its flexibility in developing new satellites have drawn criticism. The National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which was created during the Clinton administration, has had difficulty integrating its missions of imagery collection and analysis and mapping for the armed services. The National Security Agency has been criticized for failing to keep pace with advances in electronic communications.
Scowcroft was out of the country and unavailable for comment, according to an aide.
A second panel appointed by Bush in May, which was chaired by Joan Dempsey,
deputy director of central intelligence, and composed of internal experts,
has suspended its activities in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks,
a CIA spokesman said.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company