- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

Staff from the nation’s 15 spy agencies will gather this week for an open, unclassified and largely on-the-record discussion, put together by private citizens aiming to provide a forum for debate about the future of U.S. intelligence.

Organizers of the National Intelligence Conference and Exposition (Intelcon), a conference this week in Arlington say they expect some fairly pungent commentary.

“We’re not having people reading out press releases approved by their bosses,” said John Loftus, a former Justice Department prosecutor and one of the organizers. Mr. Loftus is now a lawyer in private practice whose Web site, www.john-loftus.com, says he has worked “without charge to help hundreds of intelligence agents obtain lawful permission to declassify and publish the hidden secrets of our times.”

The speakers list for the three-day event includes several senior intelligence figures such as David Szady, the FBI’s assistant director for counterintelligence; Deborah Maklowski, in charge of analyst recruitment at the National Security Agency; and Harold Rhode, a Pentagon veteran who was Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s liaison with Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi.

“Every spectrum of opinion is represented,” Mr. Loftus said.

Intelligence officials from foreign nations — including Britain and Israel — also will be attending, the organizers say.

The former officials slated to appear will be “more free to speak their mind,” Mr. Loftus said.

“There will also be a lot of informal conversation,” Mr. Loftus said, adding that it would be a unique opportunity to “hear from the people in the trenches.”

Mr. Loftus’ co-organizer, William Saxton, says the reaction from intelligence professionals and observers has been “phenomenal.” He says they already have hundreds registered to attend and hope to get as many as 2,000 people by the end of the event.

Asked whether the audience will include spies, Mr. Saxton joked: “Let’s just say we expect to have a lot of people registering as John Smith.”

He says the organizers have sent tickets to lawmakers, whom they hope to lure — along with their senior staff — with the promise of candid, off-the-record chats.

Mr. Loftus says the experience needs to be a learning one for officials, too.

“These guys have to stop being so gun-shy with the media and learn to start talking about what they do. … They know how to speak in an unclassified setting, they’ve all done that before.”

Intelligence officials need to stop seeing the press and Congress as enemies “and learn to use them as allies,” he said.

Mr. Loftus is critical of what he calls the “foxhole mentality” of many intelligence officials.

“They have it ingrained in their system that you don’t tell anyone anything,” he said.

Tickets to the event, which will be held tomorrow through Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, begin at $275 for a single day.

The organizers won’t say how much the conference is costing, but they hope to get most of the money back through ticket sales and exhibitors fees.

“The first year is really a gamble,” Mr. Saxton said. “We hope to make it a regular event if it is successful.”

High on the agenda for the conference: the impact of the massive restructuring of U.S. intelligence under way.

And Mr. Loftus expects a chorus of skeptical voices.

“There’s a gathering sense of unease” among intelligence professionals about the reform process, he said. “The CIA fears it will lose a significant amount of power and influence” as a result of the creation of a new director of national intelligence. “And they’re right.”

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