A safer America

A bill to reform and dismantle the CIA was unveiled Sunday by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

According to Roberts’ proposal, functions of the CIA operations, analysis and technology would be split into separate agencies and placed under the Sept. 11 panel-recommended national intelligence director.

This director would also have authority over the FBI, NSA and several military intelligence groups now under the Department of Defense.

The bill, which goes beyond the Sept. 11 commission’s recommendations, drew harsh criticism.

Although presidential candidate John Kerry said the plan superficially resembles his own proposal, committee Democrats chastised Roberts for developing his proposal in secret. Ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller called it a “serious mistake.”

Members of the CIA also reacted negatively. Former director George Tenet claimed Roberts’ plan was “…an attempt to be seen as doing something.”

However, Roberts’ reorganization does do something. Namely, it embraces many of the Sept. 11 commission’s suggestions. If nothing else, it advances the vanguard of needed reform.

Among the numerous failures preceding the terrorist attacks, poor communication between intelligence agencies ranks near the top. According the commission, we have a blind spot on the blurring line between domestic and international crime.

The commission therefore recommended improving communications between the intelligence agencies and consolidating them to an extent.

Roberts’ reorganization seeks to do this by putting nearly a dozen intelligence departments under one director. In theory, the FBI would get better access to existing foreign sources, and foreign intelligence would have more awareness of domestic policing.

However, the proposal goes “too far” according to committee Democrats.

Taking a harder line, acting director John E. McLaughlin claims that the CIA’s front-line role against terrorism should preclude massive reorganizations.

Of course, this begs the question about where the agency’s “front-line” was in 2001.

The stunning failure of American intelligence warrants debate and a real reform. Thus far, little of either has occurred. Indeed, Roberts expressed frustration at President Bush’s unwillingness to make intelligence reform a top priority.

Although Bush accepted the commission’s findings with appreciation last month, the administration hasn’t created the recommended national intelligence director position yet.

Bush has not outlined any substantive budget or responsibilities for the director either, and commentators speculate Bush wants only a cosmetic change.

This contrasts with the more powerful directing role envisioned by the panel and sought by Roberts.

This isn’t to say that Bush has done nothing, but the president’s solutions appear even less palatable than Roberts’.

Bush and Rep. Porter Grass, R-Florida, his appointee to lead the CIA, believe the failures of Sept. 11 stem largely from restrictions placed on the CIA. The agency, forbidden since its creation from operating within the United States, has a Rubicon it’s not to cross.

Although it’s not the purpose of this article to recount the morally dubious actions of the CIA, the agency has undermined representative government and supported military dictators when it found them convenient.

Allowing domestic clandestine operations is therefore not desirable. CIA manipulating of domestic affairs not only alarms liberals that generally disapprove of the agency, but also concerns conservatives fearing excessive government power.

Nonetheless, Grass thinks that domestic intelligence gathering and police authority can be safely granted to the CIA.

Earlier this month, Grass introduced a bill that would give the CIA authority to arrest suspects in the United States.

Furthermore, Grass’s bill would allow the CIA to gather intelligence domestically at executive discretion.

Although this creates a more comprehensive intelligence agency, it’s one that moves from the wrong direction.

If we want a domestic policing power that has a foreign intelligence wing, it’s more intuitive to build upon existing federal policy than give the CIA a badge.

After all, Grass’s proposal leaves us the islands of intelligence that preceded Sept. 11.

Roberts’ plan fixes this by carving the foreign intelligence apparatus from the CIA, making it available across departments in a new, larger agency.

There are, naturally, risks to this. For example, the commission found that the CIA cooperates poorly with itself. Thus, there’s no reason to believe they would fare better if formally split.

Additionally, Roberts’ plan might strip military units of their essential tactical intelligence units.

Obviously, springing the plan on the nation without discussion was ill-conceived. Incorporating the Sept. 11 commission’s findings requires careful study. As Donald Rumsfeld observed, “If we move unwisely and get it wrong, the penalty would be great.” But even if this plan is a step too far, it’s in the right direction.

In light of the Bush administration’s foot-dragging, the nation needed a kick-start. If all concerned parties turn their criticism of Roberts’ plan into constructive debate, our nation will be safer for it.

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