NBC News and news services
updated 8/23/2004 3:45:52 PM ET 2004-08-23T19:45:52

Former CIA Director George Tenet on Monday attacked a Republican senator's proposal to reorganize the CIA, calling it "a dangerous misunderstanding of the business of intelligence."

In a statement issued to the press, Tenet said the proposal "would undermine years of effort to integrate disciplines — hard-won steps that have led to some of the most significant intelligence successes in our history. The proposal runs totally counter to the concept of the collaboration among disciplines — a concept that has proven so effective against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups since 9/11."

President Bush, for his part, reacted warily to the proposal by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to transfer the nation’s major intelligence gathering from the CIA and the Pentagon to control by a new director. Roberts chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“We’ll take a look at it and determine whether or not it works or not,” the president told reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. “But there’s going to be a lot of other ideas too as this debate goes forward.”

The warmest response, in fact, came from the camp of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. His national security adviser, Rand Beers, welcomed the plan and described it as very similar to Kerry’s.

Tenet, who resigned earlier this year amid criticism of the CIA before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, disagreed, calling the proposal "yet another episode in the mad rush to rearrange wiring diagrams in an attempt to be seen as doing something. It is time for someone to say, 'stop!' ... It is time for someone to slam the brakes on before the politics of the moment drives the security of the American people off a cliff."

"It is not an accident that there have been no terrorist acts against the U.S. homeland since 9/11 nor is it mere chance that al-Qaida has been so badly damaged as an organization," Tenet added. "Both are the direct result of human and technical intelligence working hand-in-hand with analysts both at home and abroad."

Beers, for his part, said the proposal needed bipartisan support and leadership from President Bush, whom he said was “resisting any real changes.”

Proposal announced on TV
Roberts unexpectedly announced the proposal Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Intelligence officials, speaking anonymously because of the political sensitivity, called the plan a step back from greater interagency cooperation. One said that rather than eliminating barriers between agencies, “it smashes them apart.”

American intelligenceRoberts offered the most sweeping reorganization proposal by anyone since the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks called for major changes. He acknowledged that details had yet to be shared with the White House or Senate Democrats.

“We didn’t pay attention to turf or agencies or boxes” but rather to “what are the national security threats that face this country today,” Roberts said of the proposals supported by eight Republicans on the intelligence committee. “I’m trying to build a consensus around something that’s very different and very bold.”

But Roberts immediately ran into resistance from a committee Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, interviewed with him on CBS. “It’s a mistake to begin with a partisan bill no matter what is in it,” Levin said.

The Sept. 11 commission called for a new national intelligence director with power to force the nation’s many agencies to cooperate.

So far, the debate has focused on how much power to give that official, rather than on retooling existing agencies.

Most Democrats support the commission’s view that the new director should have authority over hiring and spending by the intelligence agencies. Bush has endorsed creating the position but has not said what powers it should have.

Proposal specifics
Roberts would put the CIA’s three main directorates — Operations, which runs intelligence collection and covert actions; Intelligence, which analyzes intelligence reports; and Science and Technology — into three new, separate and renamed agencies, each reporting to a separate assistant national intelligence director. It also would remove three of the largest intelligence agencies from the Pentagon.

Although the measure would essentially dismantle the CIA, Roberts said in a paper he released: “We are not abolishing the CIA. We are reordering and renaming its three major elements.”

“No one agency, no matter how distinguished its history, is more important than U.S. national security,” the paper said.

Last week, acting CIA Director John McLaughlin, a career agency employee, urged Congress to move carefully and argued there had been dramatic improvement since Sept. 11 in the sharing of information by intelligence agencies.

A congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there would be no CIA director in the new structure.

Equally drastic changes were proposed for the Pentagon.

The nation’s largest spy agency, the National Security Agency, which intercepts electronic communications around the world, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes satellite pictures, would be removed from the Pentagon and put under direct control of an assistant national intelligence director for collection.

The Defense Intelligence Agency’s human intelligence collection activity and CIA’s former directorate of operations would become two separate independent agencies reporting to the same assistant national director for collection.

This assistant director also would have direct line control over FBI counterintelligence and counterterrorism units, although they would continue within the FBI administratively and would still be subject to attorney general guidelines.

The Pentagon’s huge National Reconnaissance Office, which operates spy satellites, would work under an assistant national intelligence director for Research, Development and Acquisition. That same assistant would also run the CIA’s former directorate of science and technology as an independent agency.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., hasn’t seen the proposal yet, said his spokesman, John Ullyot.

But Warner “would have concerns about any plan that would transfer critical, well-functioning intelligence assets away from the Department of Defense during wartime and limit the secretary of defense’s budget and appointment authority over programs that support our men and women in uniform,” Ullyot said.

Rumsfeld urged caution
Last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged caution in restructuring intelligence.

“We would not want to place new barriers or filters between military combatant commanders and those agencies when they perform as combat-support agencies,” he said.

Perhaps mindful of that warning, Roberts’ plan would create a separate assistant national intelligence director for military support and a four-star director of military intelligence who would run Defense Department tactical intelligence units and report directly to the defense secretary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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