Spy v. Spy

By

John E. McLaughlin, the acting director of central intelligence
(DCI), has a finely developed sense of irony. With the 9/11
Commission delivering its final report this week (the day after The
New Republic goes to press), McLaughlin took to "Fox News Sunday"
to preemptively argue against one of its most important
recommendations: the creation of a director of national
intelligence (DNI), distinct from the CIA, to oversee the nation's
15 intelligence services. "A good argument can be made for that,"
he conceded, but "it doesn't relate particularly to the world I
live in."Of course it doesn't. McLaughlin is a 32-year veteran of the CIA.
Ever since the 1947 National Security Act created the modern U.S.
intelligence apparatus, the DCI has theoretically led the entire
intelligence community while simultaneously managing one of its
component agencies, the CIA. In reality, the lion's share of the
DCI's attention has gone to running the CIA and not its sister
organizations, a situation exacerbated by the fact that he controls
only about 12 percent of a $40 billion intelligence budget--the
percentage allocated to the CIA. After two catastrophic
intelligence failures--September 11 and the Iraq war--attributable
in no small measure to the fragmentation of the intelligence
system, McLaughlin needs to live in a new world. It's time for a
new intelligence czar.

A Cabinet-level intelligence chief will not be a panacea for the
intelligence community's ills, but it could go a long way toward
bridging the divisions between the spy agencies. Consider what
happened in the run-up to September 11, 2001. After the 1998
American Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, then-DCI George
Tenet declared war on Al Qaeda, circulating a directive demanding
that "no resources or people [be] spared in this effort, either
inside [the] CIA or the Community." But, while the CIA's
Counterterrorist Center got the message, the FBI's counterterrorism
chief told the joint congressional inquiry into September 11 that
he "was not specifically aware of that declaration of war." And the
director of the National Security Agency (NSA) added, "We had about
five number-one priorities." Tenet may have technically been head
of the entire intelligence community, but it seems he communicated
chiefly with his home institution. As General William Odom, a
former NSA director, has said, "The DCI becomes trapped if he's also
directing an agency, and therefore he doesn't look at the community
as much as he could." An intelligence czar would not have that
problem.

But, just as the new spymaster must be responsible for the whole
intelligence community, so must the community acknowledge that the
intelligence czar is running the show. Right now, the largest
institutional obstacle to this is the secretary of defense, who
controls roughly 85 percent of the intelligence purse. To cement
the new intelligence chief's authority, he (or she) should be given
control of the entire intelligence budget, and the office of the
undersecretary of defense for intelligence should be abolished. The
czar should also be given a fixed term--one that does not coincide
with each change of administration--to help shield him from
political influence.

Consolidating power in this way, however, does not mean the
intelligence community should be morphed into a single Cabinet
department or that the new czar should function as a secretary of
intelligence, running the day-to-day operations of the various
agencies. At best, that would lead to an "additional layer of
bureaucracy," as McLaughlin has charged, and at worst, it could
produce a Frankenstein's monster of disparate parts stitched
together like the Department of Homeland Security (see Michael
Crowley, "Playing Defense," March 15). Instead, the new
intelligence chief should set policy, provide resources, and
enforce inter-community collaboration, leading the intelligence
community just as the national security adviser directs the
National Security Council-- precisely what the 1947 National
Security Act envisaged. (In fact, the institutional resources for
the office of an intelligence czar already exist in the DCI's
Community Management Staff, which facilitates interagency
cooperation. )

It's true that some of these steps could be taken without creating a
new position. The CIA director could be allotted a fixed term (as
McLaughlin has suggested) and greater budgetary authority (as
McLaughlin and two of his predecessors, Tenet and Robert M. Gates,
have suggested). But that would still leave the CIA director in his
own world, disconnected from other agencies that need his help and
whose help he needs. McLaughlin may feel safe living in that world,
but we don't.

By the Editors

Loading Related Articles...
Article Tools
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

You must be a subscriber to post comments. Subscribe today.