House plan seeks to merge NSA into new spy agency NSA, 3 other branches need more 'corporate' Outlook, bill's backer says

March 05, 1996|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency would be merged into a new spy organization called the Technical Collections Agency under a reorganization plan unveiled yesterday for the nation's intelligence community.

Rep. Larry Combest, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said the intelligence agencies must embrace a more "corporate" outlook to meet "the new challenges as we enter the 21st century."

He proposed consolidating sections of the nation's spy agencies that perform similar functions while authorizing the director of central intelligence to provide broad oversight of the agencies.

Under his plan, NSA which employs about 20,000 at Fort Meade and intercepts communications from foreign countries would be joined by several thousand employees from a variety of agencies who are involved in "imagery" intelligence, such as collecting and interpreting photos from satellites.

The TCA also would include several hundred government spies who collect technical data from a specific event, such as air samples from a nuclear explosion. It also would take in employees from the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds spy satellites.

"The Technical Collection Agency would be designated a combat support agency, as NSA currently is," the Texas Republican said at a news conference. Mr. Combest said it was highly unlikely that NSA - which is Maryland's largest employer would move from Fort Meade, where it has been based since shortly after its founding in 1952. Instead, committee staff members said it was possible that TCA's non-NSA employees would be moved to Fort Meade.

The congressman stopped short of recommending spy agency personnel cutbacks proposed last week by a 17-member commission headed by former Defense Secretary Harold Brown.

The commission said the NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency should reduce their civilian work forces by at least 10 percent above the cuts ordered by Congress, so they can hire workers with needed skills.

The agencies already were ordered to reduce civilian employment by 24 percent by 2001.

"I totally concur with the commission that there is an imbalance [in technological and language skills] that needs to be addressed," said Mr. Combest.

"It is not necessarily the number of people, it is the ability to have people where you need them, and the ability to replace people in the places where you may have gaps."

The committee would continue, he said, to propose early retirements without pension penalties and target workers with unneeded skills, both of which were rejected last year by a House subcommittee.

Mr. Combest's proposal, dubbed IC21 for "The Intelligence Community in the 21st Century," would also grant more power to the director of the CIA, who is also the Cabinet-level adviser to the president on intelligence.

Mr. Combest conceded it would be a struggle to push through his reorganization plan.

"I think there are going to be, unquestionably, some people who begin to be concerned about turf battles," Mr. Combest said. "This is a fairly radical change."

Under the House proposal, the CIA director would have greater control over personnel in other agencies, and be able to shift money around within the overall intelligence budget, which is estimated to be $28 billion a year.

Morever, the CIA would also take operational control over a number of analysts at NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Such a move would allow the CIA to better coordinate intelligence from all agencies and provide more-comprehensive reports to government officials.

At the same time, Mr. Combest's proposal would create a new section of the CIA called Clandestine Services, which would house all clandestine agents, both civilian and military.

Currently, the CIA's Directorate of Operations handles civilian agents, while the DIA is in charge of military agents.

NSA's director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Kenneth A. Minihan, has yet to see the report, said committee staff members.

They said that Vice Adm. John M. "Mike" McConnell, the former NSA director, opposed having his analysts come under CIA control, arguing that his agency was better equipped to understand and interpret satellite and other high-tech collection sources and methods.

The staff members expect top NSA officials and their allies on Capitol Hill to oppose such a plan, while CIA director John M. Deutch is said to favor keeping NSA in its current structure.

! Pub date: 3/05/96

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