While he was defense secretary in 1992, Vice President Cheney said he would recommend a presidential veto of a bill that would have established a director of national intelligence with authority over the Pentagon's intelligence-collection activities.
Cheney's view then, spelled out in two letters on March 17, 1992, to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, differs from the position President Bush took on Monday. Bush said he supports the creation of a single intelligence director, but with no authority over the Defense Department budget pertaining to intelligence.
The Sept. 11 commission and key Republican and Democratic legislators have again recommended establishing a national intelligence director with budgetary authority over the 15 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, including those in the Pentagon. The issue is central to congressional hearings on the commission's recommendations. Pentagon officials are scheduled to testify next week.
In the past, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has opposed giving the current director of central intelligence budget authority over Pentagon intelligence programs, which involve more than 80 percent of the community's estimated $40 billion in spending. About the Sept. 11 panel's proposals, Rumsfeld has said publicly only that they have "merit" and need study.
Several senior intelligence officials told the House intelligence committee yesterday that giving a new national intelligence director budget authority was essential. Testimony next week before the House Armed Services panel by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone may give the first sign of whether the Pentagon will still oppose that change.
Cheney's 1992 views were detailed in two letters, one by his acting general counsel, Chester Paul Beach Jr., to Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), dated March 17, 1992. They were disclosed yesterday by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.
At the time, the argument against giving a new intelligence czar control over Pentagon collection operations, particularly satellites that collect electronic signals and imagery, was that it would interfere with war-fighting capabilities.
Cheney argued that the roles of the defense secretary and director of central intelligence "have evolved in a fashion that meets national, departmental and tactical intelligence needs" and should not be changed.
The vice president's spokesman, Kevin Kellems, told the Associated Press that Cheney does not discuss his conversations with the president and cautioned against comparing current and historical positions.
A new study by the Congressional Research Service traces the attempt to create a single head of intelligence back to 1955, when the second Hoover Commission recommended that the director of central intelligence (DCI), who doubles as director of the CIA, be separated from the latter role so he could focus attention on the entire community.
The 1976 Senate committee headed by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) recommended that the DCI be given control over intelligence appropriations. That year, President Gerald R. Ford by executive order gave the DCI authority to develop the budget for foreign intelligence activities conducted not only by the CIA but also by the Pentagon and other agencies. The 1992 legislation that Cheney challenged proposed a separate intelligence director with overall budgetary and program authority for all the agencies.