President Bush's plan for reforming the intelligence community would make the new national intelligence director responsible for clandestine operations at home and abroad but would allow less direct control over those activities than the CIA director has now in the dual role as director of central intelligence, according to past and present senior intelligence officials.
Bush's plan, which aides say is still being refined, would make the national intelligence director (NID) and staff an independent agency inside the executive branch but not within the office of the president. Although the director would have immediate authority over the budget for foreign intelligence activities -- about 70 percent of the $40 billion intelligence community budget -- the director would not personally run any operational agency as the director of central intelligence (DCI) does today, since that person also is CIA director.
For example, under Bush's plan, the intelligence director would "task" and "supervise" operations throughout the 15 agencies of the intelligence community. But the heads of the CIA, FBI and Pentagon would have the responsibility to carry out clandestine actions.
In counterterrorism, the NID's direct control would be even more diffuse. The director of the new national counterterrorism center (NCTC), who would report to the intelligence director, would plan domestic and foreign clandestine activities, but operations would be carried out by FBI, CIA or Pentagon personnel.
As acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin said on Wednesday to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, the NCTC, which the national intelligence director would manage, "would be a kind of clearinghouse of what needs to be done, and then the doing would be passed on to those who must do it."
McLaughlin described to the committee how he exercises direct control over operations by heading a daily 5 p.m. meeting in his capacity as DCI. The meeting is attended by representatives of the CIA, FBI and Pentagon. McLaughlin said it is "an operational meeting" where "we review and act on information that arrives in real time."
When Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) asked McLaughlin and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III whether the intelligence director should have the power to direct clandestine operations, Mueller said no. McLaughlin said that only under one condition should the intelligence director be able to "task" operations, and that is when "the CIA director worked for that NID directly. . . . That person would certainly have something to say about operations."
Former CIA director Robert M. Gates, now the president of Texas A&M University, recently described the president's proposal as it exists today as creating "a new layer of bureaucracy" in the intelligence community. Gates's suggestion was to make the CIA director a deputy to the intelligence director. That way, he said in a presentation last month to Congress, "a deputy NID for CIA would relieve the NID of routine management responsibility for CIA, while allowing him better to oversee its activities and draw upon its support."
Gates referred to his own history as "practitioner and observer of Washington's bureaucratic black arts." He said he believes "the NID position, without direct control of a single line agency or organization, will eventually have its authorities eroded, eventually becoming not an intelligence czar, but eunuch."
The exact roles of the CIA director and that agency are still being sorted out under the president's plan, a senior administration official said. For example, the national intelligence director would be Bush's principal intelligence adviser, probably attending the briefing in the Oval Office each morning.
But, as Gates pointed out, if the intelligence director is not controlling the CIA and other agencies "running covert operations and high risk human collection operations . . . [that individual] would end up spending a disproportionate time trying to stay on top of what they were doing" so he could keep the president informed.
From a more practical point of view, Gates said, the director would have to rely on some of the CIA's resources. "In practice," he said, "CIA will inevitably provide the NID with support from personal security to communications, airplanes, a desk and everything else."
Under Bush's current plan, the CIA apparently would be independent -- or, as Gates termed it, "orphaned." Its director may or may not be present at the president's morning briefing, a White House official said yesterday. "That would depend on the president," he said, adding, "It is not worked out yet."
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) noted that problem last week during a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Saying he wants to strengthen the position of CIA director, Warner, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would look into guaranteeing the CIA chief access to the president under any new arrangement, "so to be another voice in here that the president can hear if for some reason he wants to use other than the NID."
Although the intelligence director so far has not been linked to the CIA, the person holding that position will have more than the NCTC to manage directly. The president's plan calls for transfer of the Intelligence Community Management Staff of less than 150 who support the CIA director in the DCI role. In addition, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) -- senior officers who supervise production of national intelligence estimates -- would be made part of the director's staff.
Finally, the president has proposed that the director have a Cabinet-level advisory group, called the Joint Intelligence Community Council (JICC). Made up of the secretaries of defense, state, Treasury, energy and homeland security as well as the attorney general, it would advise the director on setting requirements, financial management and evaluation of intelligence.
The president's choice as CIA director and DCI in this interim period, Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), in the past opposed creation of an NID. Goss, a former CIA case officer and former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, earlier this year introduced legislation that would give the DCI about the same kind of budgetary authority over the rest of the intelligence community that is proposed for the intelligence director.
At his scheduled confirmation hearing Tuesday, members of the Senate intelligence panel plan to question Goss on his views of Bush's reorganization plan and to get his thoughts on the future role of the CIA. At a hearing last month before his old committee, he cautioned Congress against taking hasty action.