The bombshell set off last week by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) in introducing a wide-ranging intelligence reorganization bill -- one that would essentially dismantle the CIA -- has suddenly awakened Congress and the Bush administration to the difficulties of changing the complex interrelationships in the U.S. intelligence community.
Even the relatively simple notions of "putting one man in charge" by creating the post of a national intelligence director, giving that person budgetary authority over the 15 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, and establishing a national counterterrorism center have raised questions that Congress and the administration have only begun to deal with.
On Friday, President Bush may have bought more time to answer those questions when he took an interim step: signing executive orders strengthening the powers of the CIA director and setting up a counterterrorism center. The CIA director now has added ability to coordinate efforts of intelligence agencies, while Congress and the executive continue the debate over what powers a new intelligence chief would possess and how the bureaucracy would be redrawn.
All of the moves are responses to the Sept. 11 commission's call to reinvigorate and reorganize the U.S. intelligence community. Former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean (R), chairman of commission, has lamented that the community is a team playing without a quarterback. His deputy chairman, former representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), has often argued for change because the CIA director has too many duties to adequately direct the community.
The Roberts bill, however, would give a new national intelligence director even more responsibilities and roles, judging from the details in the measure's 193 pages.
For example, the director would be responsible for providing national intelligence that is "timely, objective, independent of political considerations and based upon all sources available" to the president, heads of executive branch departments and agencies, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior military commanders.
The director would prepare the national intelligence budget, as well as manage and oversee the reprogramming of funds and personnel across all U.S. intelligence agencies; determine and approve requirements for collection, analysis and dissemination of intelligence; and resolve conflicts when they occur.
These will not be easy jobs. Moving money from program to program, for example, probably would have to go through the Defense Department, the Office of Management and Budget and several congressional committees. As Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld put it last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, funding reprogramming is "something that just by its very nature requires coordination among all three and Congress. And quite honestly, the Congress has been one of the biggest difficulties with respect to that issue."
Another role for the intelligence chief would be to establish requirements and priorities "to govern the collection, analysis and dissemination of national intelligence by elements of the national intelligence service." Currently, that function -- setting priorities for the CIA and other agencies -- is the responsibility of the president through the National Security Council.
The intelligence chief would also be charged to set "requirements and priorities" for the attorney general and the FBI to carry out foreign intelligence electronic surveillance and physical searches inside the United States. The Roberts bill gives the intelligence chief responsibility to "promote and evaluate the utility of national intelligence to consumers within the U.S. Government," another new role.
Asked about these multiple roles, a senior Senate aide involved in putting the legislation together said the defense secretary carries out just as many or more activities, and that the bill simply would put the intelligence chief on the same level as the Pentagon's civilian boss.
The national counterterrorism center, as defined by the Roberts bill, would have a separate budget beginning in fiscal 2006, and be one of several such centers the measure would establish -- an arrangement similar to that proposed by the Sept. 11 commission. The other centers would deal with issues such as weapons proliferation, counter-intelligence and narcotics trafficking, according to the measure.
The head of the counterterrorism center would directly advise the president and National Security Council as well as his boss, the intelligence chief. The counterterrorism center director also would "direct the tasking of national intelligence collection using human and technical means" and "coordinate the intelligence and intelligence-related operations of the U.S. Government." The national intelligence center concept, which originated in the Sept. 11 commission's report, has been criticized by some for creating new "stovepipes," or government intelligence operations concerned solely with one subject or one area of intelligence -- which were criticized by the commission.
The most immediate reaction caused by the Roberts bill came from current and former senior CIA officials over the senator's notion that the CIA would be split up and made a part of a new National Intelligence Service.
Acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin put out a strong statement supporting his employees and attacking the plan by Roberts, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee that oversees his agency.
"Knowing the uncertainty that this rapid-fire succession of proposals can cause, I would just stress to everyone that we are nowhere near the end of this debate," McLaughlin said. "Ideas will come and go. Some will stick; many will be winnowed out. In that regard, I honestly do not think any of this will lead to the breakup of the CIA given the Agency's vital front line role in the War on Terror."
The proposal even prompted former CIA director George J. Tenet to break his retirement silence with a statement describing Roberts's proposal as part of the current push for intelligence reform that he described as "the mad rush to rearrange wiring diagrams in an attempt to be seen as doing something. It is time for someone to say, 'stop!' Someone needs to stand up for all the good that is done by the men and women of CIA."