Hasty reform of U.S. intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the September 11 commission's report could damage American national security, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
"You know, a lot of damage can be done in the name of reform, if one gets in a hurry and doesn't think it through carefully," Mr. Rumsfeld said in an interview.
Mr. Rumsfeld said an "enormous number" of changes have already been made to try and fix intelligence shortcomings. But he cautioned that intelligence will be complex.
"We're in the middle of a war," he said. "There are still things that can be done undoubtedly and I think the debate and discussion is a good thing."
The defense secretary, speaking to editors and reporters of The Washington Times, said consolidating the 14 agencies under a single director could lead to more "group think" among intelligence analysts than already exists.
"You don't want to have everything the same. You want competitive analysis. You want all source analysis. You want a competition of ideas. And it's the policy-maker's job to sort through all that," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Putting all spy agencies under a single person, a national intelligence director, may not solve the problem, he said. Mr. Rumsfeld said competition between intelligence agencies must be managed so that "the tension is constructive, rather than destructive."
Any reforms should help the intelligence process "by giving policy-makers better information, rather than the tension having the effect of stovepiping things and not allowing information to be known."
The issue of intelligence is directly related to the security of the country, he said. "We darn well better be careful what we do, and we better think it through and not just rush to see ... what reforms might be imposed."
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Defense Department is "the major user" of U.S. intelligence data and the Pentagon has developed a careful cooperation with the CIA on intelligence issues.
Intelligence failures related to the September 11 attacks involved a lack of sharing information among agencies, particularly the CIA and FBI and the failures that let terrorists sneak into the United States undetected, he said.
Reforming U.S. intelligence agencies, which have a total annual budget estimated at between $35 billion and $40 billion, "is a tough problem," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
"This is not a subject that lends itself to amateur brain surgeons," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said there are several theories about why coalition forces haven't found major caches of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, ranging from whether Saddam's arms makers deceived him and never produce the weapons, to weapons being moved to neighboring nations or even buried.
"We found jet aircraft buried in sand," he said. "Imagine, who in the world is going to bury jet aircraft in sand? ... So it doesn't take a genius to hide things."
The defense secretary's remarks came as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday held the first of several hearings examining how to restructure U.S. intelligence agencies to better deal with modern threats.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said at a hearing on reform yesterday that recent intelligence failures "have created a unique window of opportunity for enactment of real and lasting reform."
Mr. Roberts, who recently introduced legislation to revamp U.S. intelligence, said reforms should include putting aside agency differences, creating a strong intelligence director, setting up a new National Counterterrorism Center, and reforming congressional oversight.
In a related development, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and a group of senators introduced other legislation that would implement changes recommended by the September 11 commission. A similar bill was introduced yesterday in the House.
"The sweep of reform contained in this bill is historic, as it must be, because the challenges that confront us have little precedent in history," Mr. Lieberman said.