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Obama, McCain eye better use of spies
Question of the Day
The next president will take office with plans to continue reforming the U.S. intelligence community and to put more emphasis on improving human intelligence.
Republican John McCain promises to create a more agile human spying service if elected, while Democrat Barack Obama has called for more and better spies and an international security program targeting terrorists.
Mr. McCain has called for “a new OSS-style agency,” said Randy Scheunemann, director of foreign policy and national security for the McCain campaign. The OSS, or Office of Strategic Services, was the World War II predecessor of the CIA that engaged in both intelligence gathering and covert action.
The Arizona Republican learned as a member of the presidential commission that investigated the intelligence failures over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that a major shortcoming was a lack of spies on the ground in strategic places, Mr. Scheunemann said.
“While there may be some that think the status quo is just fine, John McCain has seen past failures of the intelligence community firsthand,” Mr. Scheunemann said. “He has identified a critical need for better human intelligence collection, more linguistic capabilities to face the threats that we are facing now, and he would be strong in ensuring that we build the kinds of capabilities we need and that we have the kind of structure that best serves policymakers.”
Mr. McCain said in a September 2007 speech that his proposed spy agency would “draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government.”
The agency, like the OSS, would be “a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace.”
“It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take — risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations,” Mr. McCain said. “It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.”
In his campaign speeches, Mr. Obama also has called for better human spying.
“We need to revisit intelligence reform, going beyond rearranging boxes on an organizational chart,” he said in July 2007. “We must invest still more in human intelligence and deploy additional trained operatives and diplomats with specialized knowledge of local cultures and languages.”
John Brennan, a former CIA counterterrorism manager and intelligence adviser to Mr. Obama, said a top priority of an Obama administration would be to carry out a major “inventory” of the numerous intelligence reforms undertaken since 2001.
“Senator Obama not only understands the complexities of the world, but also is a very, very strong supporter of intelligence capabilities and the national security mission,” Mr. Brennan said.
Effective intelligence forces are needed for dealing with the threats facing the country in the coming decade and “we cannot degrade those capabilities,” Mr. Brennan said.
The Illinois Democrat has said he would seek to strengthen intelligence with better leadership and limit the director of national intelligence to a fixed term to cut the influence of partisan politics.
One Obama proposal is to create a “Shared Security Partnership Program” as an international intelligence and law-enforcement infrastructure targeting terrorist networks. The program would spend $5 billion over three years to improve counterterrorism cooperation around the world.
Mr. Obama believes in using both military “hard” force as well as “soft power,” Mr. Brennan said.
All intelligence activities under an Obama administration would be “consistent with U.S. law,” he added. CIA waterboarding or other questionable practices are “not going to be allowed under an Obama presidency,” Mr. Brennan said.
Mr. Obama also is “emphatic” that intelligence activities be supported by all three branches of government, Mr. Brennan said.
For example, electronic foreign intelligence surveillance and covert action “cannot be done by a single branch of government,” Mr. Brennan said. Both Congress and the courts must oversee those activities, he said.
Mr. McCain, a former prisoner of war, also objects to waterboarding and other rough interrogation techniques as a violation of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture.
A senior McCain adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of political sensitivities, said Mr. McCain also would seek to reduce excessive bureaucracy spawned by the office of the director of national intelligence (DNI), which grew out of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.
“The 9/11 commission never envisioned a DNI structure that was a massive bureaucracy in and of itself,” the adviser said. “It was meant to be a coordinating structure. I think it’s fair to say that the current DNI structure goes considerably beyond what the 9/11 commission recommended. It now has 3,000 people.”
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.
By Elizabeth MacDonald
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