Pentagon Hawks Take Wing: A New Defense Department Spy Office Could Politicize Intelligence Gathering. (Articles)

By Vest, Jason | The Nation, December 16, 2002 | Go to article overview

Pentagon Hawks Take Wing: A New Defense Department Spy Office Could Politicize Intelligence Gathering. (Articles)


Vest, Jason, The Nation


As the civil liberties community endeavors to stem the tide of threats to the Constitution posed by John Ashcroft's Justice Department and new Department of Homeland Security, some in Washington policy-making circles watched with trepidation on November 13 as Congress gave Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld permission to create a new Under Secretariat for Intelligence at the Pentagon. According to some observers, not only does the move have the potential to obscure Congressional oversight of much of the nation's intelligence apparatus, but it could result in analysis increasingly politicized and slanted toward reporting what the most hawkish officials want to hear.

To be sure, some observers see the change as nothing more than a simple but long-overdue bureaucratic reform; in fact, it was originally conceived as a kind of "reinventing government" idea under the Clinton Administration. In this view, it's simply an attempt to bring order to the organizational and budgetary chaos of the myriad intelligence agencies that operate under the Defense Department's aegis--from high-tech-oriented outfits like the National Security Agency and National Reconnaissance Office to the specialized intelligence units of each uniformed service. One popular Pentagon anecdote attributes the move to Rumsfeld's frustration at having representatives from nearly a dozen different military intelligence organizations in his office at the same time during the EP-3 spy-plane crisis in China: "All I want is one dog to kick," he reportedly said, angrily noting that instead of one dog, "right now I have a whole kennel."

Yet to others, there's much more--and much more that's troubling--to the creation of a Pentagon "intelligence czar." Some veterans of the national security establishment see it as part of the Administration hawks' plan to institutionalize a serious counterbalance to the CIA, which has not produced the analysis the hawks want to hear: namely, that there are real, substantial links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. "This is basically showing the following: If you don't get the intelligence you want, you create something that will give it to you," says Mel Goodman, a former senior CIA analyst who now teaches at the National War College.

Indeed, the idea of a Pentagon intelligence czar is 180 degrees from the recommendation of another Bush Administration official, retired Lieut. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was National Security Adviser under the first Bush Administration and now serves the younger Bush as chair of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In his capacity as chair of a special commission on intelligence reform, in March Scowcroft recommended that several key intelligence functions now run and funded under military authority be transferred to civilian control. While George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), technically coordinates the entire intelligence community, he has both operational and budgetary control only over the CIA. Scowcroft's recommendation was to separate the traditionally dual role of the DCI, making one person DCI with coordinating responsibility for all US government intelligence functions (commonly called the Intelligence Community, IC), one person director of the CIA, and moving the National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and National Imagery and Mapping Agency to independent-agency status under the new DCI.

Rumsfeld and his longtime cohort in all things hawkish, Vice President Dick Cheney, didn't take too kindly to Scowcroft's recommendation. In the milieu of Washington, where the size of the budget one controls is a source of power, the loss of such big-ticket agencies would not only diminish the Defense Department's clout but remove from its control some of the most valued collectors of sensitive information--which, for the hawks' agenda, are quite important.

The Congressional authorization not only effectively neuters Scowcroft's recommendations, says a veteran of the CIA's Directorate of Operations; it also creates the potential for covert operations under Pentagon control that have no oversight. …

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