If historic legislation to reform the US intelligence community
can be summed up in a word, it might be this: centralization.
The bill - which now seems assured of passage - attempts to
reorganize the constellation of US spy agencies in a manner that
focuses their counterterrorism efforts. It's an effort to integrate
the military, covert actions, diplomacy, law enforcement, border
security, and other aspects of national power into a seamless
This kind of cooperation might be easier legislated than done, as
the teething problems of the Department of Homeland Security make
clear. Nor can Congress pass laws mandating personnel competence and
dedication. But in terms of changing the processes of government,
the bill is historic, its proponents argue - the biggest change in
the US spy business since the end of World War II.
"It really is a framework for American counterterrorism policy in
all its aspects," says former Rep. Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of
the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks.
The often-delayed intelligence bill neared completion following a
compromise on Monday. Congressional leaders added one sentence
intended to make it clear that the Defense Department will have
priority in disputes over how best to use US espionage satellites.
The change convinced powerful Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) of
California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to drop
his objections and allow the reform bill to proceed. President Bush
has been lobbying lawmakers this week in an effort to win the bill's
passage, and Vice President Cheney was instrumental in the final
negotiations. "For a bill of this scope, size, and complexity to
pass in 4-1/2 months is really extraordinary," says Hamilton.
The central change of the legislation would be the establishment
of a director of national intelligence. The new DNI is meant to have
enough power to shift dollars and enforce cooperation in an attempt
to get US spy agencies to work together.
This new post will assume substantial authority over the National
Security Agency, for instance - a largely military organization that
runs the nation's electronic intelligence efforts. The bill would
also create a new National Counterterrorism Center, which would
build on and consume the current CIA-run Terrorist Threat
Integration Center. The old organization had no authority to order
intelligence operations, while the new one, on paper at least, will.
Taken together, these changes might indeed force a coordination
of intelligence efforts that wasn't happening prior to 9/11, says a
former US director of central intelligence. "It will prioritize the
way we go about collecting and analyzing our intelligence in
accordance with what's best for the overall country, and not what's
best for the Defense Department," says retired Adm. …