The report of the commission on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks has
recommended a major overhaul of the U.S. intelligence structure. Some changes
will be harder to implement than others, as they are likely to run into bureaucratic
and political resistance.
The most significant changes recommended by the 9/11 Commission require some
agencies, most notably the Department of Defense, to relinquish some of their
power. But, as commission member Bob Kerrey (who is not related to the presumed
Democratic presidential candidate) points out, that is a notoriously difficult
thing to do.
"In my experience in politics, when somebody is asked to give up something,
they will come up with all kinds of reasons other than the most important one,
which is that they don't want to surrender authority, to cite for why they
don't want to do it," he said.
The commission proposes creating the post of Director of National Intelligence,
a sort of intelligence super-chief. Currently, the head of the CIA is also
the director of Central Intelligence, the president's top intelligence advisor
and the nominal head of a loose grouping of agencies that deal in domestic
and foreign intelligence.
The idea is not a new one and has been proposed numerous times over the past
30 years. But, as Kevin O'Connell, director of the Intelligence Policy Center
at the RAND Corporation, says, it remains a controversial one.
"Some believe, on the one hand, that it creates a central point for accountability
in American intelligence," said Mr. O'Connell. "But on the other hand, some
are concerned that it would create another layer of bureaucracy in an already
complicated intelligence structure."
Contrary to popular perception, the Department of Defense actually controls
more intelligence funds and people than the CIA. Richard Best, a defense and
intelligence analyst for the Congressional Research Service, says any efforts
to strip any of that authority away will, to use a military term, encounter
stiff resistance, both from the Pentagon and its political allies in Congress.
"To take them out of the military chain of command, to take them out from
under the secretary of defense would be a very difficult process," he added. "There
are many folks within the military who would be very reluctant to see this
happen because they fear that they would be devoted to other types of analysis,
other types of collection, and reduce the amount that's available to what they
call the warfighters, the military commanders."
Mr. O'Connell says that, for such a proposal to work, the new job must have
real power and authority over people and budgets.
"If it's a change that's going to be made effectively, it's going to have
to be done by creating something more than a ceremonial position," said Mr.
O'Connell. "Certainly, it will have to have Cabinet-level rank. But it will
also have to have other important responsibilities, such as budget reprogramming
authority and certainly the ability to approve agency heads of the various
entities within the American intelligence community."
The commission backed away from the suggestion, however, that the post be
of Cabinet-level rank.
The commission recommended setting up a National Counter-Terrorism Center
for agencies to share information, to avoid a repeat of the intelligence lapses
of 9/11. However, it also recommended against creation of a new domestic intelligence
agency. It called instead for the creation of a National Security Intelligence
Service within the existing Federal Bureau of Investigation.