- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 7, 2004

Those who control the money have the power in any enterprise, including management of government — where there can be little success without it even for those with the lofty rank of “czar.”

That obviously is what is wrong with George W. Bush’s proposal for a new director of central intelligence who would hold Cabinet status but not actually be part of the Cabinet. This new position, intended to bring together the disparate segments of the nation’s huge intelligence and counterintelligence operations under one strong hand, could only influence but not control budgets and personnel of any of those parts, forcing it to go begging in spending disputes.

It is a recipe for failure. Without authority to fire or hire or shift money around, the turf wars and jealousies and lack of cooperation that have marred U.S. intelligence operations and led to some recent horrendous mistakes would change little under the president’s plan. It is not what the commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks had in mind when it issued its controversial report calling for a drastic overhaul of U.S. intelligence gathering.

The commission, chaired by two men both experienced in the nuances of bureaucratic success and failure, called for establishing a new independent director of central intelligence with full authority over the intelligence budgets and personnel of the major players in the spying game — the FBI, the CIA and the DIA (the Defense Intelligence Agency). Both commission Chairman Thomas Kean, former New Jersey governor, and his co-chairman, former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the White House plan, which seems an effort to hurry creation of something to answer election-year criticisms.

The problems that have led (make that misled) the nation into missing opportunities to thwart the September 11 attack and into basing the invasion of Iraq on the mistaken belief Saddam Hussein’s government had weapons of mass destruction are so deep-seated that merely setting up another supernumerary and attendant bureaucracy with no authority but the president’s tacit support won’t even scratch the surface of solving them.

Does anyone remember the drug czar or the energy czar?

The decision is right to keep the new position outside the White House as a stand-alone post with its own staff. Without that cutout (to use an intelligence term), the motive for almost any action would be second-guessed as political. Even the Cabinet-level secretary of homeland security is not immune from such accusations. A recent dramatic elevation of the terrorist threat by Secretary Tom Ridge was met with some speculation it might be connected to the presidential election.

At this stage, rushing into half-measures to solve the dilemma is worse than foolish. It is terribly counterproductive. It also would mislead the public into believing the solution to a broken system is at hand and we can all go back to feeling somewhat secure billions and billions are being well-spent annually to ensure there is information enough to protect us .

It would be wrong to say there have been no improvements in the current apparatus. Certainly, there seems to be more coordination and cooperation between the responsible agencies. But the longstanding systemic problems need thoughtful consideration. While that contemplation should not be open-ended, a few months of calm deliberation could produce a much stronger approach.

The rushed creation of a Department of Homeland Security is a case in point. No one really seems to know where it stands in the scheme of things or where it will be positioned under a new intelligence directive. That’s incredible, given that the department can only be as good as the intelligence it receives.

If the president wants true reform, he should draft a strong, detailed proposal to Congress demanding timely bipartisan action. He should also issue an unequivocal order to the agencies he controls, including the Pentagon, that he will tolerate no opposition based on turf concerns. The commission has provided a solid outline for long-range improvement and sensible redesign.

Any new intelligence czar must have the right to hire and fire and control the money. If that means transferring some of the power and eliminating some of the fiefdoms of other Cabinet officers, so be it. That would be a meaningful step and not just a superficial attempt to make us all feel better. Nothing is more vital to the welfare of this nation.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.


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