Senator proposes sweeping reforms for intelligence

Republican's measure would dismantle CIA

August 23, 2004|By Greg Miller | Greg Miller,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee proposed sweeping reforms yesterday that would dismantle the CIA and remove several of the United States' largest intelligence agencies from the control of the Pentagon.

The restructuring outlined by Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, is the most aggressive intelligence reform plan offered since the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks released its final report last month. The commission offered a blueprint for overhauling the nation's spy services, but Roberts' plan goes beyond it -- as well as the positions taken by President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry.

Roberts' plan would break the CIA into three pieces, with each reporting to a separate branch of a new overarching National Intelligence Service. That service would be led by a national intelligence director with "complete budget and personnel authority" over all components of the nation's spy community, including major programs that for decades have been run by the Department of Defense.

"We didn't pay any attention to turf or agencies or boxes," Roberts said in a television interview on CBS' Face the Nation, describing legislation that he said has the support of every Republican on his committee and would be shared with the White House for the first time today.

"I'm trying to build consensus around something that is very different. It's very measured. It's very bold," he said.

By offering proposals that go far beyond the reforms Bush has endorsed, Roberts is likely to put new pressure on a White House that has had to fend off criticism it was not acting swiftly enough to fix systemic intelligence problems highlighted by the Sept. 11 attacks and the failure to find evidence of banned weapons in Iraq.

In addition to going beyond the president's position on reform, Roberts' proposals exceed the changes envisioned by the Sept. 11 commission, which recommended the creation of a national intelligence director but did not suggest splitting up the CIA.

Kerry has endorsed all the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. Like Bush, he has not called for breaking up the CIA.

Roberts' plan met immediate resistance from at least one Democrat on his committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who said during the same CBS program that he had not seen the bill but that "it's a mistake to begin with a partisan bill no matter what is in it."

The Roberts bill, called the 9/11 National Security Protection Act, also came under quick fire from the CIA.

"This proposal makes no sense at all," said a U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Rather than eliminating stove pipes, it would create more of them," the official said, using a term that refers to divisions among agencies that inhibit information sharing.

"And rather than bringing disciplines together, it smashes them apart," the official said.

In recent testimony, acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin has urged caution in remaking the nation's spying community and stressed that the CIA had made major strides since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Roberts bill was drafted by the Republican staff on the intelligence committee, without input from Democrats. Congressional officials said the ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, was shown the bill for the first time Friday and has not had time to study it. Rockefeller was unavailable for comment.

Roberts' plan is a surprisingly aggressive proposal from a Republican lawmaker who was seen as a staunch defender of the CIA when he became chairman of the intelligence committee last year.

But Roberts has become increasingly critical of the agency over the past year. His committee issued a report last month that was scathing in its criticism of the CIA's prewar assertions that Baghdad possessed chemical and biological weapons and was rebuilding its nuclear program.

That report cited a "broken" culture at the CIA, and an aide to Roberts said yesterday that the senator had become convinced that aggressive steps were required to repair it. "How do you adjust a broken corporate culture?" the aide said. "You realign the corporation and give it a new culture."

Under Roberts' plan, the CIA and the other 14 U.S. intelligence agencies would report to a single director. Four deputies would have authority over branches managing collection, analysis, research and technology, and military support.

The CIA would be split into three main components: the clandestine service that recruits spies overseas; the intelligence directorate that analyzes information; and the science directorate responsible for applying technology to the world of espionage. Each would be assigned to one of the new national branches.

The FBI would remain intact, although its intelligence and counterintelligence divisions would report to the national intelligence director. The Pentagon would relinquish control over several of the nation's largest spy agencies, including the National Security Agency.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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