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Pentagon pushes back against intel reforms

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- The Pentagon's spy chief told Congress Wednesday that it was not necessary to move intelligence agencies out of the Defense Department, as the Sept. 11 Commission has recommended, and warned that the intelligence reforms it proposed might deprive troops on the battlefield of vital information.

And the chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said he would oppose any efforts at reform that moved needed intelligence assets out of the Department of Defense.

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Pentagon Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone gave evidence to the committee on the second day of an unprecedented series of summer recess hearings called to consider the radical restructuring of U.S. intelligence proposed by the Sept. 11 Commission and embraced to varying degrees by the president, his challenger Democratic Sen. John Kerry and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

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Cambone, testifying alongside Adm. Lowell Jacoby, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Gen. Raymond Odierno, the former commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, went further than any other administration official so far in expressing concern that the reforms might make matters worse.

"I'm not saying that we ought not to be considering the changes," he told Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., but he added that the reforms might create new problems and if they could not easily be solved, "we need to back up a little bit and reconsider."

Cambone stressed that the important thing was the working partnership between the defense secretary and the director of central intelligence, who both runs the CIA and coordinates the activities of the other 14 U.S. intelligence agencies that together make up the co-called U.S. intelligence community.

Eight of those agencies currently reside within the Defense Department: the intelligence agencies of the four services, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines; and the four so-called national agencies, which build and run the nation's spy satellites, listening posts and other forms of electronic eavesdropping.

The Sept.11 Commission recommended moving the four national agencies out of the Pentagon and putting them under the operational control of a new national intelligence director, arguing that the kind of strategic intelligence they produce is vital for policymakers to adequately defend the nation against terrorism and other threats.

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In testimony before the committee Tuesday, Sept. 11 Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton argued that it was necessary "to draw as sharply as we can a bright line between national strategic intelligence on the one hand, and tactical intelligence" -- like that needed on the battlefield -- "on the other."

But Odierno told lawmakers Wednesday, "Today, strategic and tactical intelligence is interwoven. They are no longer separate like they used to be."

He said "the commander on the ground" needed to "feel confident that his priorities will be met, in terms of having the data available necessary to execute precision targets."

"The one thing we learned in Iraq was, you don't have much time -- targets are fleeting. You have hours, and so you have to have immediate access to that information."

Hunter agreed, conjuring the image of a Special Forces team downloading data from a satellite to call in an air strike against an enemy on the other side of a hill.

"There is a new generation of weapons, a whole new concept of war fighting, which relies precisely on crossing that line between tactical and strategic intelligence," a senior committee staffer told United Press International after the hearing.

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In an interview Wednesday, Hamilton acknowledged "that line is sometimes difficult to draw."

Balancing the needs of the war fighter with those of the policymaker, he told UPI, "is the very heart of the problem. There isn't any rule you can lay out that deals with every case. You cannot always assume that tactical intelligence takes priority."

The commission proposed that the new intelligence director should have a deputy, a defense official who reports both to the director and to the secretary of defense. It would be that person's job, Hamilton said, to strike the balance.

"It's a very difficult task," he said, acknowledging that the commission's report did not directly address the question at that level of detail. But he added that the current balance was clearly wrong. "Three thousand people died," he said, referring to the death toll on Sept. 11, 2001.

Nonetheless, the GOP committee leadership claimed to have changed Hamilton's mind on this point.

"The commissioners themselves told us," Hunter said, "and I'm quoting Mr. Hamilton, 'It appears that we, the commission, need to refine parts of this proposal ourselves.'"

Pushing back against Democratic charges that republicans were slow-walking the commission's recommendations, Hunter said there was "obviously a sense of urgency" but counseled caution, given what he said was the row-back of the commissioners themselves.

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"I think that we don't want to simply rubber-stamp a proposal when the people who wrote the proposal themselves have stated that there are parts that need, quote, 'refinement,' meaning change," he told the committee.

Barely below the surface of the hearing ran a constant stream of partisan tension, with Republicans accusing Democrats of trying to make political hay by rushing thoughtlessly to embrace the commission's recommendations -- "every single one" as Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, said -- and Democrats counter-charging that the GOP was wasting time by not calling a special session of Congress so that lawmakers could start working on legislation, rather than merely holding hearings.

Asked whether he felt the administration was dragging its feet, Cambone replied that the Pentagon was "moving with all the deliberate speed this requires. ... In the last week I have been with my colleagues either in the Pentagon or in the White House three and four times a day, working not only on the recommendations of this commission, but asking ourselves the other question, which is: Is there more that we should be doing?"

Nonetheless, Cambone argued that the "current arrangement" was "thus far the best way" to ensure that troops on the battlefield got the intelligence they needed in a timely fashion.

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If a new director of national intelligence took over the job of running the community, Cambone said, "We would have to reset those relationships in a way that assures the same outcome."

Indeed, he argued, it was unnecessary to move any intelligence assets out of the Pentagon.

"This partnership could be continued when the (new director) comes into being, without moving out of the Defense Department (any) elements of the (intelligence community)," he stated in his prepared testimony.

Hunter went even further, promising to resist efforts to give the new director control of the national agencies. "If the troops on the ground have to have the assets of those agencies for real-time information for war fighting, then I want to keep those agencies under (the Defense Department).

"One thing that everybody is concerned about," he concluded, "is making sure that the war fighter doesn't get disserved by what is a well-meaning but erroneous new structure of our intelligence apparatus."

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(Please send comments to [email protected].)

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