WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush, in an apparent reversal, has decided that the new national intelligence director recommended by the Sept. 11 Commission should have the budgetary and hire-fire authority that the commission wanted, one of the ten commissioners told United Press International.
"I have very good reason to believe that is what the president intends," John Lehman, the Reagan-era Navy secretary said Sunday, confirming reports from a handful of journalists briefed Friday by a senior White House official. Lehman declined to elaborate on his reasons.
The question of what powers the new director should have lies at the heart of the most politically explosive element of the commission's proposals for a radical restructuring of the 15 agencies that make up the nation's so-called intelligence community.
Currently, the head of the CIA, formally referred to as the director of central intelligence, is responsible for coordinating the activities of all 15 agencies, but critics argue that the post lacks the necessary authority -- particularly over the eight agencies that are located inside the Department of Defense that spend more than three-quarters of the $40 billion U.S. intelligence budget.
One of the big problems is enforcing a division of labor, said John MacGaffin, former No. 2 at the CIA.
"You need someone to keep everyone in their own lane," he told UPI. "At the moment, the intelligence community is going at this (counter-terrorism) like kids playing soccer. Someone kicks the ball and everyone runs after it."
The commission recommended that the new director should have budgetary and hire-fire power over the whole community.
"There are only two phrases that really give you power in this town," commission member Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman, told UPI recently: "'Here's your money,' and 'You're fired.'"
But when the president announced Aug. 2 he would ask Congress to create the new post, he said the director "ought to be able to coordinate budgets." Elaborating later, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card said the director "would have significant input into the development of a budget," adding later that he would develop a budget "consistent with other agencies."
The issue is complex because the budget that the administration draws up each year is often substantially amended by Congress before being passed into law. At the moment, because the three largest elements of the intelligence budget are considered part of the defense appropriation, they are passed into law by the defense sub-committees of the appropriations panels in each chamber.
There is no specific oversight of the intelligence budget, and Sept. 11 Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, another former House Democrat, said last week he had been told by several senators on the subcommittee that they spent no more than five or 10 minutes discussing intelligence during their work on the bill.
Without substantial reform of the way Congress deals with intelligence spending, Card said, it would be difficult to make reform work. "This cannot be done solely by executive authority."
On personnel issues, Card said the administration did "not want to do anything that would undermine the chain of command" of the CIA, the Defense Department or other agencies which house parts of the intelligence community like the Department for Homeland Security.
"We do not feel that people should be quote, appointed by and working for the national intelligence director," he said.
But commissioners and other supporters of reform publicly fretted that the new post would be toothless without budget and personnel authorities. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., called the vision mapped out by the White House "a kind of Potemkin national intelligence director, where you see the facade but there's not real authority behind it."
On the other hand, the commission's proposals provoked dismay in the Pentagon and among its allies on Capitol Hill. While voicing admiration for the commission's work and making supportive noises about the need for reform, defense officials have expressed unease at the changes.
In particular, they have argued against moving the four so-called national agencies -- the ones that build and run the nation's spy satellites, listening posts and other forms of electronic eavesdropping -- out of the Pentagon, leaving only the four intelligence organs of the armed services -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- within the Defense Department.
"The commander on the ground (needs to) feel confident that his priorities will be met, in terms of having the data available necessary to execute precision targets," Gen. Raymond Odierno, the former commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, told Congress last week.
"Bureaucrats and Cabinet barons do not want their power reduced and will fight that no matter how much the change might benefit the country," said Patrick Lang, a former senior Defense Intelligence Agency official and now a staunch advocate of reform.
Critics of the current system argue that having these agencies inside the military distorts their priorities. "It is increasingly apparent," a senior U.S. intelligence official told UPI, "that the heavy defense component (in the intelligence community) means that the tasking may have been skewed" too much towards battlefield and other kinds of military intelligence. "Supporting the war fighter has got to be one of the top priorities -- and perhaps the top priority when he's actually fighting. But there are other priorities too."
Right now, the official says, there is a risk those other priorities are getting lost in the shuffle.
Administration officials acknowledge there has been a vigorous debate behind the scenes over exactly what authorities the new director should have.
"He made some tough decisions," Card said of President Bush.
"It took (the commission) 20 months of debate and analysis and very serious study ... to come to a consensus," said Lehman. "It's understandable that senior administration officials should take a little time to reach agreement, too."
But now it seems that debate may have concluded with a victory for those who want real power for the post.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is scheduled to testify on the issue this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. So far, in public at least, he has kept his own counsel. "I've been giving my views to the president," he told a meeting of the Council for Foreign Relations earlier this month, "and my public views will be affected by his decisions.
"Mrs. Rumsfeld did not raise a lot of dummies," he concluded to laughter.
(Please send comments to email@example.com.)