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Revamp of U.S. spy agencies centralizes power

The Nation

The authority of the director of national intelligence is boosted. Lawmakers complain they weren't involved.

August 01, 2008|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration unveiled a long-awaited reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community Thursday, boosting the authority of the director of national intelligence but prompting sharp criticism from congressional leaders who said they were not consulted on the changes.

The executive order signed into law a day earlier by President Bush essentially designated Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell as commander in chief of the CIA and 15 other agencies that constitute the U.S. intelligence community.

Over the three years since Congress created the DNI, as his office is known, McConnell has often lacked the power to make changes among the notoriously turf-conscious intelligence agencies and to force them to work more closely, said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice)."I am sure that there was a lot of pushing and pulling to get this thing drafted, but obviously it had to be done," said Harman, an architect of the law that created McConnell's job. "The DNI is firmly in charge now, and that's a good thing."

The overhaul was described by two senior administration officials as the most significant of its kind in more than a generation.

It was the first major revision of an executive order originally issued by President Reagan in 1981 to formally define the roles of the various U.S. spy agencies, place limits on their activities and address the privacy rights of Americans.

But Harman and other lawmakers complained that they were left out of the revision process and did not receive copies of the new order until after Bush had signed it.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) walked out of a closed-door briefing of the House Intelligence Committee by McConnell on Thursday morning and was followed by several other lawmakers.

In an interview, Hoekstra, the committee's senior Republican, said he told McConnell that he was disgusted with what he described as the Bush administration's continuing effort to undercut any kind of outside oversight.

"This is part of a systemic problem of the administration, and I said I'm not going to take it anymore," Hoekstra said.

The revised blueprint is not expected to prompt immediate or wholesale changes in the way the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies operate, according to officials from the White House and several of the agencies. All of them spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the document publicly.

Many of the changes simply codified reforms adopted in response to post-Sept. 11 criticism of the intelligence community.

Some changes give the DNI authority over intelligence-gathering policy while leaving operational details to the CIA and military agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, according to the two senior administration officials, who briefed reporters in a conference call.

Those officials, and documents released by the White House, stressed that the new blueprint reinforced long-standing civil liberties protections and continued an existing ban on assassinations.

The revised executive order gives McConnell more authority to integrate and reorganize the collection, analysis and dissemination of intelligence.

For instance, he could order the CIA to share what it considers to be proprietary information with other intelligence agencies. McConnell also will play a more substantive role in filling a host of top-level intelligence jobs.

Drafts of the revised order -- known in intelligence circles by its number, 12333 -- have been circulating among top intelligence officials in recent months, setting off lobbying efforts by affected agencies.

The White House said Thursday that CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates played central roles in the revision process, as did James R. Clapper Jr., the Defense undersecretary for intelligence who has headed three other affected agencies.

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josh.meyer@latimes.com

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