A bipartisan group of former senior Cabinet members, senators and national security officials, including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz, yesterday urged Congress not to rush to pass legislation restructuring the intelligence community based "on an election timetable."
The statement marks the first substantial opposition to a rapid congressional response to the recommendations of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. President Bush and most congressional leaders have signaled a determination to pass legislation restructuring the nation's intelligence machinery before Congress adjourns for the election.
"Intelligence reform is too complex and too important to undertake at a campaign's breakneck speed," the former officials wrote.
Kissinger told the Senate Appropriations Committee that swift enactment of proposed legislation would result in "months and maybe years of turmoil" as adjustments are made in operating procedures and intelligence machinery. But, he added, "we will have to deal with the immediate terrorist challenge by the apparatus that now exists."
Meanwhile, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee conducted the first of two scheduled markups of a 191-page bill to restructure the U.S. intelligence community, which Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she hoped to send to the Senate floor today.
The bill, put together by Collins and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), the ranking committee Democrat, calls for creation of a National Intelligence Authority (NIA) as an independent agency within the executive branch to be headed by the national intelligence director, who would become the president's chief intelligence adviser.
To make certain the intelligence chief is separate from the CIA and other intelligence agencies, the measure requires the NIA to be housed in a separate building and prohibits the director or any of his or her deputies from simultaneously holding a position in any intelligence agency.
The reform measure reflects some proposals put forward by the Sept. 11 commission and has support from Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry. Opposition to quick action came yesterday from the two senior senators on the powerful Appropriations Committee -- Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and ranking Democrat Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) -- and three former senior military officers who had served as commanders in chief of the European, Pacific and Strategic commands.
Byrd called attention to what he described as the "disastrous stampede" that led to passage of the Iraq war resolution and Department of Homeland Security legislation before the 2002 congressional elections. That experience, he said, "should give us sufficient pause to think twice before we attempt to reorganize crucial intelligence activities with one eye on the clock and one eye on the polls."
His solution was to wait until next year, a suggestion that was echoed by former deputy defense secretary John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Hamre, who helped organized the statement by the former officials, said yesterday there is "strong concurrence within the group that 'Let's not make a mistake.' "
The group includes former defense secretaries Frank C. Carlucci and William S. Cohen; former CIA director Robert M. Gates; and former senators Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), David Boren (D-Okla.), Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Gary Hart (D-Colo.). "They didn't reach conclusions about what should be done, they only wanted to offer guidelines but not final solutions without more studying," Hamre added.
Kissinger testified that he is concerned about creating "another layer between the existing intelligence institutions and the president." He said he is worried about "combining domestic intelligence with foreign intelligence under one leadership" as the new proposal does.
Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the Select Intelligence Committee, said she is concerned about the push for a delay and feels it could scuttle the reform effort altogether.
"If we wait until the election is over," she said, "the issue will sink on the next president's agenda" because other issues will overtake it. She said Kissinger told her at lunch yesterday, "you won't like" what he said to the committee, and she replied, "You're right."
During the Governmental Affairs markup, senators with close ties to the intelligence community failed to give the proposed intelligence chief even greater authority over several Pentagon agencies than the Sept. 11 commission proposed. The 12 to 5 committee vote marked a victory for the Pentagon and its congressional allies, who are trying to limit erosion of the military's control over intelligence-gathering agencies.
The Collins-Lieberman bill would give the new intelligence director significant planning, budgetary and personnel authority over several agencies in the Defense Department, but the Pentagon would still control the agencies' operations.
Collins and Lieberman opposed stripping the Pentagon of authority over several agencies such as the National Security Agency, saying it would give the intelligence chief more powers than the commission recommended. In trying "to strike the right balance," Collins said, "we did not want to move the combat-support agencies . . . out of the Department of Defense."