- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

At the heart of a dispute over legislative intelligence reform are confidential meetings between the defense secretary and the CIA director during which they decided where to point spy satellites.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former CIA director George Tenet, and their staffs, talked frequently about where to position satellites that relay overhead images and overheard conversations during the war on terror.

For example, during the December 2001 battle for Tora Bora in Afghanistan, the Pentagon decided to fix a number of spy assets over the region, both tactical and space-based, in the hunt for al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, former U.S. officials said.

The procedure for “tasking intelligence assets,” as the discussion is called, is spelled out in the 1947 National Security Act. Amended numerous times since then, the act details the working relationship between the CIA director and defense secretary.

In practice, the law gives the defense chief broad powers to place satellites. In addition, the defense secretary directs and controls the budgets for three main providers of technical intelligence: the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which runs the network of satellites; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which analyzes images; and the National Security Agency (NSA), which intercepts electronic communications.

The intelligence reform bill, which Senate and House members crafted in response to recommendations from the September 11 commission, is stalled in Congress over just how the relationship between the intelligence community and the defense secretary should be molded for the 21st century.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, opposes a compromise. He said the bill gives too much power to a new national intelligence director. The result, he warned, could be the director’s interference in the chain of command between the defense secretary and his field commanders.

“That means that when the Department of Defense has to have a satellite over Fallujah, for example, because they’ve got people being shot at on the ground, they need to know where the enemy is,” Mr. Hunter said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You have to be able to control that agency.”

His replacement language, Mr. Hunter said, retains safeguard for the current military chain of command, and ensures the budget request for the NRO, NGA and NSA flow from the new director, through the defense secretary, to Congress.

Senate conferees, so far, opposed such language, called “Preservation of Authority,” as weakening the new director.

Congressional staffers, who asked not to be named, are circulating a three-page document opposing Mr. Hunter’s position.

The paper points out that for years the CIA director has had ultimate control on satellites, in consultation with the defense secretary. The president never had to intervene because the CIA always deferred to Pentagon needs.

The director of central intelligence (DCI) “gave the DoD’s [Department of Defense] collection requirements the highest priority during each of these conflicts; no transfer of authority was necessary,” says the paper, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times. “During conflicts, the DCI has ensured that DoD requirements are satisfied before any other requirements are addressed.”

Mr. Hunter’s staff is circulating its own point paper backing the congressman’s stand, which is supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The [Bush] administration is not asking Hunter to drop his opposition on preserving the military chain of command,” the paper states. The staff states that the White House itself has submitted replacement language that supports Mr. Hunter’s position.

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