Thursday, December 11, 2003

Nearly a year after a congressional panel recommended a new structure for the intelligence community to prevent a repeat of the September 11 attacks, the reform movement has lost momentum and may be stalled altogether until after next year’s presidential election.

Members of the committee — a joint effort by the House and Senate intelligence committees — and other observers blame the partisan tussles over pre-Iraq war intelligence and the increasingly fevered atmosphere of the campaign trail.

“The whole question of ‘Did we get into the war based on bad intelligence and deception?’ emerged,” Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and co-chairman of the joint congressional panel, told United Press International. “[It] took up the oxygen that might otherwise have been devoted to legislative consideration of our recommendations.”

Although the feuding over charges that the administration misrepresented or twisted intelligence about the threat posed by Iraq has subsided, Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican, told UPI that as long as it might be a topic in the 2004 campaign, it would be hard to move forward with reform.

“We don’t want to address it in a hostile atmosphere,” he said.

Asked if that meant waiting until after next year’s elections, Mr. Goss said, “Possibly. I’m not saying no work can be done on it, but it may not be possible to finish the job until after the smoke of partisan battle has cleared.”

As an example of that kind of smoke, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently stopped work after a row erupted about a leaked draft memo written by a staffer for Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat. The memo discussed ways in which committee Democrats could exploit the inquiry into prewar intelligence for political gain.

While Republicans said the memo showed partisan gamesmanship on the traditionally nonpartisan intelligence committee, Democrats chose to focus on the question of how the memo was leaked to right-wing talk-show host Sean Hannity.

What has stalled is the legislation necessary to implement the most far-reaching of the investigation committee’s 19 recommendations.

In a radical change to the way the intelligence community is structured, the inquiry called for the establishment of an intelligence czar to manage the activities of the 14 agencies that make up the community. This task currently is performed by the director of central intelligence, who also runs the CIA.

This dual role for the director “hasn’t worked very well,” Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Goss agrees and says the director also lacks financial control over the intelligence agencies for which he is supposed to be setting priorities.

“At the moment, we give one person the job and another person the money,” Mr. Goss said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The joint inquiry proposal would give the director of national intelligence — as the post would be called — “the full range of management, budgetary and personnel responsibilities” needed to make “the entire U.S. intelligence community operate as a coherent whole.”

Bills to create the post are being drafted in both the House and Senate. The House bill will have more detail, said Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Mr. Graham says he has been promised hearings on his bill by the chairman of the Senate committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican.

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