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Wanted: Intelligence Czar to Oversee All 15 Agencies

June 04, 2004|Jane Harman

George Tenet is out, and President Bush must now find a replacement to lead the intelligence community through a thicket of challenges.

We are just 26 days from handing over sovereignty to the Iraqis, with more violence sure to erupt. We are on alert for another possible terrorist attack on U.S. soil. We face the harrowing prospect that nuclear weapons will fall into the wrong hands. In the months ahead, the issue isn't Tenet and what he did or didn't do. It's his job.

The way it's currently structured, the director of Central Intelligence is supposed to do two jobs at once. He is supposed to be the CIA's chief and also the person with overall responsibility for the entire intelligence community -- all 15 agencies.

The problem with this arrangement is that the CIA director does not have true authority over the other 14 agencies, many of which fall under the Defense Department. There are also intelligence agencies within the departments of Justice, State, Energy and Homeland Security.

In reality, the director focuses overwhelmingly on his own turf, the CIA.

Without a single head for the entire intelligence community, our various agencies have evolved with different rules, cultures and databases. As a result, they do not always coordinate their efforts at collecting raw intelligence or analyzing it.

This lack of coordination caused many of the mistakes we made before 9/11. Although U.S. intelligence was tracking two of the hijackers, the FBI and CIA didn't share information about their whereabouts. And although the CIA was warning the president that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike inside the United States, the agency didn't have information from the FBI indicating that Al Qaeda operatives were on our soil training at flight schools.

Lack of strong, integrated intelligence also contributed to our gross misreading of Iraq's programs for weapons of mass destruction.

What we need going forward is a single director of national intelligence who would have greater budgetary and statutory authority over the entire intelligence community. The job would be a president-appointed post whose office would help fuse together the collection and analysis functions in the same way our military services were transformed into an integrated fighting force nearly 20 years ago.

This is neither a Democratic nor Republican idea. It is an opportunity for meaningful structural reform, and President Bush should seize it.

Jane Harman (D-Venice) is the ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee.

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