Bush order urges intelligence reforms Leaders faulted for lack of vision

December 22, 1991|By Elaine Sciolino | Elaine Sciolino,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- In an order to policy-makers, President Bush says he envisions a reshaping of the nation's intelligence-gathering functions to include a greater focus on shortages of natural resources, global health problems and other issues that have not previously been considered central to ensuring national security.

In the order, known as a National Security Directive, the president does not suggest dramatic cutbacks in the intelligence bureaucracy. Instead he proposes a remolding of its functions to adapt to new, more diffuse requests for data and analysis resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union, while still meeting the needs of U.S. military security.

Robert M. Gates, the director of central intelligence, briefly discussed the presidential order in a speech on Dec. 4, calling it "the most far-reaching directive to assess future intelligence priorities and needs since 1947." But the text of the order, obtained by the New York Times, offers much more detail on the role of intelligence envisioned by Mr. Bush in the next decade and a half.

"We are in transition from watching Soviet operational readiness to wondering about the control of Soviet nuclear weapons," the order, dated Nov. 15, says. "The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have been transformed, the Warsaw Pact dissolved and Soviet activism [especially in the Third World] dramatically curtailed. There is growing interest here at home in our intelligence services tackling new issues and problems.

"Together, these developments urgently require a top-to-bottom examination of the mission, role and priorities of the intelligence community."

Unless choices are made and priorities are set, the document warned, "our capabilities will spread too thin to satisfy even the highest priorities and our inability to plan and invest long-term will leave us with inadequate intelligence assets to protect our vital interests and our security."

The order has been sent to 20 agencies and departments of the government. Some, like the State, Defense and Treasury departments, have in-house intelligence bureaus, while several others are non-traditional users of intelligence, like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and NASA.

The bureaus and agencies will respond to the directive by mid-January, and a report will be submitted to the National Security Council for review a month later.

In a clear indication that Mr. Bush is looking for an entirely new approach, the order states that in the first phase of the review, policy-makers will draft lists of their anticipated needs and that intelligence bureaus "should not be involved."

The order faults senior policy-makers for having traditionally "neglected their critical role in setting intelligence priorities and requirements."

"You need people who have no equity in the current system," said one administration official involved in the review process.

"One can argue that intelligence people are looking to preserve their current roles."

The directive raises questions about new global problems in which U.S. intelligence may need to become more involved.

At the same time, the order asks agencies whether they can do without.

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