Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin, who is scheduled to become acting head of the agency when George J. Tenet retires July 11, has said the intelligence community has already made changes to address failures highlighted by investigations of its performance before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
"What shortcomings there were -- and there were shortcomings -- were the result of specific discrete problems that we understand and are well on our way to addressing or have already addressed," McLaughlin told a meeting of Business Executives for National Security last week. He gave the speech on background, but the CIA received permission to post it on its Web site.
His speech outlined an unusually passionate defense of the intelligence community. Coming just before the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to release a sharply critical report on the agency's prewar assessments on Iraq, and at a time when some Bush White House officials want to see their own nominee head the agency, McLaughlin's remarks suggested that he will dispute claims of disarray within the CIA and will present his own ideas for reform, if any is to take place.
His first step, he said, would be to give the director a fixed term "to underscore CIA's nondepartmental, nonpolitical character." That suggestion comes at a time when Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is viewed as a leading candidate to replace Tenet. A former CIA case officer, Goss has also been part of the House GOP leadership and an outspoken Bush supporter. Last month, the president's campaign team selected him to critique a national security speech by Democratic contender Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
McLaughlin's speech anticipated not only the Senate panel's expected critical findings on the agency's intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction but also the report coming later this month from the commission studying the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Both reports, he said, will be based on intelligence operations that took place three or more years ago. "Experiences and impressions that are just a few years old may be seriously out of date," McLaughlin said. "There has been a real revolution in intelligence -- from recruiting and technology to interagency cooperation and morale."
Recalling that he has lived through several national debates about the future of intelligence, he said, "National initiatives to change intelligence tend to be a mix of pain and gain, but there appears to be an appetite for it again, in both parties and among key segments of the public."
Those debates -- in the 1970s, after illegal CIA activities within the United States were uncovered, and in 1990s, after the arrest of Aldrich Ames as a decade-long Soviet spy -- took place without the active, public participation of agency officials. McLaughlin gave notice he would be different. "As debate and discussion unfolds in the months ahead," he said, "you can expect to hear more from me and other leaders of our intelligence community."
One colleague said yesterday: "He spent the last 32 years at the agency and has earned the right to have views of his own. Anyway, what are they going to do to him?"
Jeffrey H. Smith, CIA general counsel in the Clinton administration, yesterday described McLaughlin's presentation as "an unusual but important contribution to the debate." He added: "John is highly respected and well-liked, and you don't see a timid bureaucrat doing something like this."
McLaughlin quickly shot down a popular reform idea of an "intelligence czar who would stand apart from CIA and oversee all aspects of American intelligence." Noting that the idea was "first floated in 1955," he said central control could be asserted "without the additional layers of command or bureaucracy such a change would inevitably bring."
His solution would be to recognize that CIA is already "central," describing it as the only U.S. intelligence agency that "integrates all intelligence sources" and is not part of a larger department, such as Defense or State or Justice, and therefore "does not create or advocate policy."
To provide the CIA director the power he needs over all intelligence, McLaughlin would invest the job with overall decision authority to allocate intelligence spending, almost 90 percent of which now is in the Pentagon and 10 percent with CIA. With that authority, the director "would also have to accept accountability for meeting military intelligence requirements," he said.