While the House and Senate yesterday pushed forward with their differing approaches to restructure the U.S. intelligence community and put it under a new national intelligence director, their proposals do not deal with more practical issues, such as who will brief the president each morning about current foreign and domestic intelligence analyses and clandestine operations.
Most public debate up to now has focused on whether the new director's authority would cover all or only part of the approximately $40 billion being spent yearly on intelligence, although control of spending was not found by the 9/11 commission or congressional investigators to have been an issue in the failure to predict or prevent attacks in 2001 or the overstated findings about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
But there has been little public discussion over what the actual daily role would be for the new national intelligence director (NID), including what size staff the NID would have and how it would keep track of the intelligence agencies that are carrying out operations and providing analyses.
The Senate and House bills and President Bush's own proposal make the NID the principal intelligence adviser to the president and place that person and staff as an independent agency within the executive branch. But the House and Senate require the NID to be housed separately from the CIA and other intelligence agencies, while the White House would apparently permit it to be at the George H.W. Bush Intelligence Center in Langley, Va., the CIA's headquarters.
Location is important, senior active and retired intelligence officials said. Privately they say that unless the NID has a large, separate analytical staff, he or she will have to depend primarily on CIA analysts who prepare the President's Daily Brief (PDB), the highly classified 28-page collection of short reports given to Bush and top national security officials each morning. CIA personnel collect the material, primarily from CIA analysts but also from the Pentagon and other agencies.
"I haven't heard anyone say who will brief the president, but more important where the PDB will come from," said a former senior CIA official who was once responsible for the process. "Preparing the PDB is a draining responsibility," he said, asking for anonymity because he still works in government.
The president's responses to the morning briefing and the PDB and the questions asked by other senior administration officials who receive the same materials each morning provide the basis for future analytical work done by the CIA and, where necessary, other intelligence agencies.
If the CIA director, who sits in on the president's briefing, is no longer there, the NID will "just be another layer in the community," the former senior official said. The NID would not have the intimate knowledge of the human intelligence operations and the daily analyses that the CIA director has because the analysts work directly for him.
The legislative measures also transfer the National Intelligence Council (NIC) to the NID. But the NIC prepares longer estimates and is basically little more than a dozen highly specialized national intelligence officers. "They essentially have links to other agencies like State, Defense, Treasury, and Energy, but more than two-thirds of their studies are done by CIA," a former NIC chairman said.
Both chambers of Congress yesterday continued to work toward passing their differing measures by the end of the week.
House Republican leaders virtually dared Democrats to try to change any provision in their 335-page bill, while the Senate moved toward final passage possibly by tonight, after easily fending off an effort by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to delay consideration of the bill.
At a news conference with no Democrats, the GOP-drafted House bill was endorsed by eight people whose relatives died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The event was a response to recent endorsements of the Senate bill -- which most House Democrats support -- by the best-known group of family members of 9/11 victims.
A bill that omits the House provisions on deportation and border control "is nothing other than some kind of show . . . maybe for the election," Colette Lafuente, whose husband, Juan, died in the World Trade Center, said at the Republican news conference.
Later in the day, House Democrats held a news conference that criticized the GOP version and included members of the Family Steering Committee, the widely known group representing victims' families.
The House plans to start debate today on the GOP-drafted bill. Democrats demanded a chance to offer the Senate bill as an alternative, but Republicans said that was unlikely.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) told reporters: "Every single provision of this [House] bill will make the American people safer. In order for anything to be added, or anything to be taken out, it must be shown to meet that standard. If the Democrats don't like a certain provision, or want to change certain language, they have to show us how does it make us safer."
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) opposes any changes in intelligence reform legislation.