Executive Order's Amendments Clarify Intelligence Duties

By Walter Pincus
Monday, August 11, 2008

The amendments to Presidential Executive Order 12333 that were released July 31 provided guidance to the U.S. intelligence community based on three years' experience putting into effect the reorganization required by congressional legislation passed in 2004. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who helped develop EO 12333, told reporters: "I'm very satisfied with the executive order. I believe that the authorities of the secretary of defense are adequately preserved in this."

Gates knew what he was talking about, as a former director of central intelligence (DCI) and now head of the Defense Department, whose budget and personnel provide more than 80 percent of the money and manpower in the intelligence community.

Past bureaucratic tensions over the running of U.S. intelligence traditionally depended on relations among the defense secretary, the DCI and FBI director, and on their connections to the president. The 2004 legislation replaced Gates's old DCI position with a director of national intelligence (DNI), who, along with a much larger staff, was to serve as principal intelligence adviser to the president and oversee and direct the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.

In the debate over that legislation, the most contentious elements dealt with working out the DNI's relations with the heads of Cabinet departments, particularly Defense. In 15 of the 24 sections of the amended Executive Order 12333 that detail the DNI's authority, he is given what one senior intelligence official describes as "the pen," meaning final sign-off authority. For example, the DNI has authority to require an agency to give access to and to disseminate all intelligence information -- even materials that in the past were kept inside special compartments by Pentagon agencies.

Gates opposed the 2004 legislation and rejected an offer from President Bush the next year to become the first DNI. Gates told reporters July 31 that one reason he was not interested in the job "was that I felt that the position didn't have enough power to do the job properly," such as the "authority to fire anybody." One of those 24 DNI authorities not only requires that the DNI concur with the defense secretary's choices to head Pentagon intelligence agencies, but also that the director can recommend the removal of such people.

Gates credited solving the contentious Defense Department issues in EO 12333 to Mike McConnell, a former Navy admiral and now DNI; Michael V. Hayden, a former Air Force general and now CIA director; James R. Clapper Jr., another former Air Force general and now undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and himself. He said they "trust each other, and we spent a lot of time together working through a lot of these problems. To be honest, I think with a different cast of characters it probably could not have been done."

But EO 12333 says the DNI "shall oversee and direct the implementation of the National Intelligence Program and execution of the National Intelligence Program budget." There is no mention of the Military Intelligence Program or the military intelligence budget, which runs about $10 billion annually. When it comes to this area the congressional language remains, giving the DNI essentially only broad consultation authority and the power to shift some Pentagon money around.

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them tofineprint@washpost.com.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company