Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Care Needed in Fixing CIA

August 03, 2004

For months, the Homeland Security Department has been issuing dire but vague warnings of a possible terrorist attack. The new, specific terror alert about buildings in Washington, D.C., New York City and New Jersey suggests that maybe the CIA's work, including in Pakistan, where it helped guide a raid on an Al Qaeda cell last week, is starting to improve.

It's an important sign at a moment when President Bush is endorsing the bipartisan 9/11 commission's call for a new national intelligence director and a national counter-terrorism center. Imagination, energy and smarts count for more in fighting terrorists than shuffling bureaucratic boxes. The CIA would be far better off recruiting better analysts with language skills and area expertise than undergoing sweeping institutional change that undercuts its own director.

But just as he bowed to calls for a Homeland Security Department before the fall 2002 midterm elections, Bush is calculating that he can't afford to be seen as lackadaisical about the fight against terrorism. The result is that he's sending Congress an amorphous proposal for overhauling the 1947 National Security Act.

Bush has essentially punted the tough questions, leaving it to Congress to decide how to create a national intelligence director and counter-terrorism center. It's easy enough to draw up these positions on paper. But how would the director wield authority over the Pentagon, which has steadily expanded its intelligence operations? And how much budgetary authority would a director wield?

The biggest problem that Congress faces is how to ensure competition within the intelligence agencies, while at the same time centralizing their operations. The now-infamous "group-think" that resulted in the administration's completely wrong assessments of Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction occurred partly because the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which had much more sober findings on the issue than the CIA, never got the chance to challenge CIA analysts directly. Before it passes any legislation authorizing the reinvention of intelligence, Congress should insist that competing analyses be institutionalized. Any national director should receive a renewable five-year term, on the lines of the Federal Reserve chairman, to insulate him or her from White House political pressure.

Congress is filled with fancy bills for reforming intelligence. But it shouldn't rush to create an election-year proposal that dodges hard questions surrounding intelligence fixes. Of course, Bush may be crazy like a fox in issuing such a sketchy plan. He gets credit for action, but nothing real is likely to happen before Nov. 2.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|