President Bush and Congress can no longer afford the luxury of delaying intelligence reform for another day. Among the partisan sparring of the September 11 commission, the Silberman-Robb review of the failure to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and numerous congressional reviews, one thing is crystal clear — American intelligence has totally lost credibility with official Washington, the American public and our allies around the world. That is a very dangerous business in a very dangerous world.
The president, as leader of the executive branch and home of intelligence, must act first. As painful as it is to act in an election year, the broken intelligence community must be dealt with swiftly by the president. Allowing a meddlesome and ineffective Congress to subject “reform” upon the intelligence community is unworkable and problematic. The intelligence community is part of the Executive Branch and reports to the national leadership. Only the president can make effective and long-lasting changes.
The first change is the simplest; it is time for Mr. Bush to replace CIA Director George Tenet. The litany of failures on his watch has been staggering. From the Pakistani nuclear test to the failure to find WMD in Iraq, Mr. Tenet has been the man in charge for each one of these “slam dunks.” He is charming and provided a shining light of hope to the intelligence community during the dark Clinton years. He connected well with the current president. But, ultimately, these analytical failures took place on his watch, and he must be held responsible.
Second, Mr. Bush must appoint a new director who has an understanding of the new age in which law enforcement and military mix and mingle with intelligence. Former Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are good examples of individuals who grasp this crucial developing nexus. In many ways, Mr. Tenet is the last of the Cold War directors looking to save an antiquated bureaucracy built to deal with a slow-moving Russian nation-state — not the multinational, amorphous threat of terrorism. Perhaps a director like Mr. Giuliani or Mr. Nunn could deal with the antiquated and stumbling FBI effort and also stop the joint CIA-FBI bureaucratic effort to block the new Homeland Security Department from having its own effective analytical and collection capabilities. This is shameful and a threat to America’s safety.
Third, Mr. Bush must give the director control over the entire budget and program of U.S. intelligence. The only power that speaks in Washington is that of money and who controls it. Currently, the director controls only 15 percent of the intelligence budget. The Pentagon is simply going to have to surrender that other 85 percent for the good of the country. A sop to them might be to have veto power over who is the director’s deputy.
Fourth, a new director must be charged by the president to lead sweeping changes in the analytical methods used by the intelligence community — particularly CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence. Much effort has been focused on expensive overhead-collection systems and human intelligence. All are crucial to getting the information necessary to begin making judgments. However, the preliminary results of myriad committees investigating the intelligence failures before and since September 11 show the directorate of intelligence at CIA was weak and indecisive in its analysis, and often delphic in its tone to policy-makers. The directorate of intelligence’s leadership should be replaced, its turgid bureaucracy thinned and its analysis sharpened with more open debate about its work. This should be done with analysts steeped both in subject knowledge and an understanding of what policy-makers really need.
Finally, Congress must get its intelligence house in order. Congress’ record on intelligence oversight has been a failure and its system of oversight must be dismissed. The last few years have shown that both House and Senate committees have been caught sleeping on issues, such as analysis reform, that it is their job to oversee. Clearly, the leadership of both the House and the Senate need to step in and change how these committees are run and staffed. The current so-called “select system” of leadership choosing members for six-year terms is broken. Both the Senate and the House must make intelligence permanent A-level committees. The intelligence committees should be manned with the leaders of Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees who bring an understanding of the complexities of the new age in which we live and a connection to those vital cross-substance committees they chair.
Intelligence reform has become a long-standing joke in Washington dating from the end of the Cold War in 1989. There are shelves filled with various committee reports suggesting ideas of various stripes and designs. Only the president can make the changes necessary. Only Congress can provide the oversight. Let it happen now before we careen blindly into another intelligence disaster.
Ron Marks served 16 years in the CIA and served as a senior intelligence adviser to Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Trent Lott.