The Pentagon’s spy chief told Congress yesterday that moving intelligence agencies out of the Defense Department, as the September 11 commission has recommended, might deprive troops on the battlefield of vital information.
Also, the chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, said he would oppose any reforms that moved needed intelligence assets out of the Department of Defense.
Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone went further than any other administration official in expressing concern that the reforms, which have been embraced at least in part by President Bush, might make matters worse.
“I’m not saying that we ought not to be considering the changes,” he told the armed services panel on the second day of summer recess hearings, called to consider the restructuring of U.S. intelligence proposed by the September 11 commission.
But “we need to back up a little bit and reconsider” because of the different uses the military and the civilian national leadership have for intelligence — the first for tactical use, the second for determining policy.
Mr. Cambone said what matters is the working partnership between the defense secretary and the director of central intelligence — who runs the CIA and coordinates among the other 14 U.S. intelligence agencies.
Eight of those agencies currently reside within the Defense Department: the intelligence agencies of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines; and the four so-called “national agencies,” which build and run the nation’s spy satellites, listening posts and other forms of electronic eavesdropping.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States recommended moving the four national agencies out of the Pentagon and putting them under the operational control of a new national intelligence director.
Mr. Cambone argued that the “current arrangement” was “thus far the best way” to ensure that troops on the battlefield got the intelligence they needed in a timely fashion.
Indeed, he argued, it was unnecessary to move any intelligence assets out of the department.
“This partnership could be continued when the [new director] comes into being, without moving out of the Defense Department [any] elements” of the intelligence community, he said in his prepared testimony.
Mr. Hunter went further, promising to resist efforts to give the new director control of the national agencies, conjuring the image of a Special Forces team downloading data from a satellite to call in an air strike against an enemy on the other side of a hill.
“If the troops on the ground have to have the assets of those agencies for real-time information for war fighting, then I want to keep those agencies under” the Defense Department, he said.
In testimony before the committee Tuesday, commission Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton said it was necessary “to draw as sharply as we can a bright line between national strategic intelligence on the one hand, and tactical intelligence on the other.”
But yesterday, Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, former commander of the 4th Infantry Division that fought in Iraq, told lawmakers that “today, strategic and tactical intelligence is interwoven. They are no longer separate like they used to be.”
A senior committee staffer agreed, saying after the hearing that “there is a new generation of weapons, a whole new concept of war fighting, which relies precisely on crossing that line between tactical and strategic intelligence.”
Mr. Hamilton acknowledged yesterday “that line is sometimes difficult to draw.”
Balancing the needs of those fighting wars with the needs of policy-makers, he said, “is the very heart of the problem. … You cannot always assume that tactical intelligence takes priority.”