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Covert board called crucial to presidents
Question of the Day
Presidents need to rely on a little-known group of intelligence advisers that since the 1950s has helped guide policies and oversee the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy, according to a report by former intelligence officials.
The book-length report to be released today is an exhaustive historical study of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which was created during the Eisenhower administration and has been used by presidents in different capacities ever since.
“In some instances, the Board has played a central role in advising the president and the intelligence community on crucial issues of substance or procedure and has made a significant contribution to the country’s national security,” the report says.
“In other instances, the Board has been ignored and treated as a dumping ground for rewarding political cronies.”
The report, sponsored by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, a Washington-based research group, represents the first major study of the secretive body that under President Bush has been renamed the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
Most of the board’s work is secret, but one of its most public investigations involved the loss of U.S. nuclear secrets to China from the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the 1990s.
“This investigation uncovered a twenty-year history of security and counterintelligence problems at the Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories,” the report said of the loss of nuclear secrets.
“Clearly, it is in the interest of future presidents, not to speak of the nation, to make the best possible use of the PFIAB for two reasons,” the report said.
The first is that the board is a “political fact of life,” noting that “presidents have little latitude to abolish or ignore the board.”
President Carter tried to ignore the board and “paid a political price for doing so in the 1980 election.” President George H.W. Bush at first ignored the board as set up by his predecessor, President Reagan, and found that by 1990 he had to rely on the board for some intelligence-related advice.
Mr. Bush disliked the board’s second opinions when he was CIA director.
President Clinton used the PFIAB to repay political favors by naming large contributors to the board.
The second reason the board is needed is that the independent advisory panel, composed of specialists from a broad range of backgrounds, can offer the president “a unique and valuable perspective on intelligence issues,” the report says.
According to the report, the PFIAB has studied almost every important intelligence issue and problem since the Eisenhower administration.
Some of its recommendations over the years involved the creation of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology.
The report stated that since the Sept. 11 attacks and the failures related to intelligence on Iraq, “the efficiency of U.S. intelligence came under intense scrutiny, with a particular focus on the resources, methods, and coordination - or, more fittingly, lack thereof - among various intelligence agencies.”
“The one institution that is not blinded by preconceived ideas or institutional links and that can be of great use in thinking through these issues is the PFIAB,” the report states.
“The board can be useful in helping the president steer U.S. intelligence in the right direction in its exploitation of new technology, adoption of new methods of analysis, and reorganizations to deal with the new intelligence environment the United States faces.”
The report, “The President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board: Learning Lessons from its Past to Shape Its Future,” was written by former intelligence and national security officials Kenneth M. Absher, Michael Desch and Roman Popadiuk.
Mr. Absher is a former CIA official. Mr. Desch is a former congressional and administration national security official. Mr. Popadiuk was an ambassador and National Security Council staff official during the Reagan administration.
All are associated with the George Bush School of Government and Public Service, at Texas A&M; University.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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