Halt urged to intelligence feuds

Ruppersberger favors keeping Gates as defense chief, more space technology research

November 19, 2008|By David Wood | David Wood,david.wood@baltsun.com

WASHINGTON -

The incoming Obama administration must stop the legendary struggles between the Pentagon and the CIA over control of intelligence, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a key member of the House Intelligence Committee, said yesterday.

Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, said it would be "a good thing" if Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stayed on the job after Barack Obama is inaugurated as president Jan. 20.

But he declined to say whether he thinks any of the top intelligence agency chiefs should be replaced. They include Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, Michael V. Hayden, the former NSA director who now heads the CIA, and Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence.

His comments, made to reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the nonpartisan Space Foundation, gave some insight into how Democrats intend to tackle intelligence issues as a new administration and Congress take office in January.

Ruppersberger and others have long viewed the bureaucratic struggle over intelligence as a dangerous dysfunction, a conclusion also reached by the 9/11 commission that called for sweeping reforms. In response, Congress and the Bush administration in 2005 created a new post, director of national intelligence, to provide more centralized management among the nation's 16 intelligence organizations.

But bitter struggles continued between the CIA and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over budgets and programs, with the Defense Department and its subordinate, the NSA, controlling the bulk of the $47.5 billion intelligence budget.

Continuing interagency clashes were meant to be smoothed out by an executive order issued by the White House in July that spelled out in greater detail the authorities granted to the intelligence director.

Gates, a former director of the CIA, said in July that the new executive order "empowers the [director] without weakening the others."

But Ruppersberger, chairman of the intelligence committee's technical and tactical intelligence panel, said budget struggles continue, particularly over the acquisition and operation of spy satellites.

"The military wants to own everything. ... We just don't have the money," Ruppersberger said. "This has to be a team effort, but they are battling back and forth and the [secretary of defense] usually wins."

The new administration, he added "will have a fresh look" at the problem, "to make sure the leadership is communicating."

Ruppersberger said the United States maintains global leadership because of its edge in space technology, but he warned that China is "getting dangerously close."

He called for a new strategic plan to guide satellite development and acquisition, and for a doubling of investment in space research and development.

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