Senate Panel Backs DNI In Turf Battle With CIA

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has weighed in on a dust-up between the nation's two main spy chiefs, asserting that Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, and not CIA Director Leon Panetta, should have ultimate authority to name the top U.S. intelligence delegates overseas.

Blair issued a directive in May claiming the right, in "rare circumstances," to select someone other than a CIA station chief to be his representative to foreign governments or international organizations. The directive provided that, in "virtually all cases globally," the representative would be a CIA station chief and that, before the appointment of anyone else, the CIA director and the local ambassador would be consulted.

Nonetheless, Panetta, as well as former CIA director Michael V. Hayden, balked at the idea that someone other than a top agency official would be considered the senior U.S. intelligence representative.

On Wednesday, in its report on the fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization bill, the Senate committee said it supports Blair's directive and "looks forward to the CIA's prompt adherence to his decision."

The incident marked the latest turf war between the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence since the establishment of the latter under President George W. Bush in 2005. While the director of national intelligence (DNI) is the president's top intelligence adviser, the CIA director remains the head of clandestine operations abroad, and his officers are sensitive to anything that lessens their authority, particularly in foreign countries.

In its report, the Senate committee concluded that Blair's directive, which remains classified, "recognizes the value of turning to the CIA Chief of Station to be the DNI's representative in foreign countries, but also recognizes that some locations may give rise to circumstances where that responsibility is best met by an official with expertise derived from another IC [intelligence community] element, which in fact is already current practice and is not disputed by anyone."

After the report release of the report, the CIA made clear that the bureaucratic tussle is not over. "This matter is under review by the National Security Council," agency spokesman George Little said.

In a separate matter, the Senate committee sought to increase oversight of all intelligence activities, particularly when sensitive operations or collection programs are involved. Lawmakers have called for greater oversight amid concerns that Congress received insufficient notification about detention policies and interrogation methods in recent years.

When intelligence details are provided only to the "Gang of Eight" -- the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees and the House and Senate senior leadership -- the panel wants all committee members to be informed of the notification and to be given the "main features of such briefings." Republicans on the panel opposed this provision; in separate comments included in the report, Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) and five colleagues wrote: "We believe this requirement will unnecessarily increase the tension between the Legislative and Executive branches over information access."

The committee said it wants disclosure to be required concerning the legal authority for covert or other sensitive activities, as well as for any changes to authorized covert actions. In the past, the panel has been informed only of "significant" changes.

The committee also expressed concern about the lack of clarity and transparency in the government's cybersecurity programs, and it said officials should do a better job of educating the public about national cyber-policy.

Under the Senate intelligence authorization bill, agencies would be required to notify the committee of the legal justification for any new or existing cybersecurity programs, as well as their effects on Americans' privacy. The bill also would limit funding for elements of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, which was launched last year by Bush, until the committee receives documents describing how the program affects privacy.

Staff writer Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

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