Defense Department officials cautioned Wednesday against empowering a new national intelligence director with too much authority, telling a House military panel that centralized control could promote a harmful “groupthink” mentality of intelligence analysis.
At a separate House intelligence hearing, the leaders of the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks encountered similar skepticism from some House members who urged careful study before creating a White House post that they said could become too politicized.
If the new national intelligence director the commission wants to create is tied too closely to the White House, “politics takes over,” said Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif.
“If the White House scrubs everything that goes through that office, my fear is it is going to be gridlocked, micromanaged, and it’s going to limit action,” he said.
Diversity of views urged
The hearings were among several planned this month featuring testimony from defense and intelligence officials on recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission to reform the intelligence community.
“The best way to avoid groupthink is to have people in various locations looking at the various aspects,” said Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“There’s a greater chance of having alternate analysis interaction then if we put people physically together in an environment over time, who might build up a set of assumptions that is rarely challenged.”
Stephen Cambone, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for intelligence, said creating a new director also would require reworking the “relationship between the Department of Defense and suppliers of information in a way a commander on the front line can be assured when he picks up the phone, he can get it.”
“We’ll have to reset those relationships to ensure that outcome. So far, the best way has been the current arrangement,” he said.
The defense officials’ testimony Wednesday echoed concerns raised by some skeptical House members, including Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the Armed Services panel.
“Over the last decade, the military has grown more dependent on improved national intelligence systems for precise maneuvers and application of firepower,” he said. “Transferring DOD national intelligence capabilities to an outside entity could end up dulling our military edge, which would ultimately make us less secure.”
Rare summer action
Members of both parties returned from their August recess to attend the hearings this week after the Sept. 11 commission released a scathing 567-page report in late July citing multiple intelligence failures. House leaders say they want legislation ready in September, Senate leaders by Oct. 1.
Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton told the House intelligence committee that speedy reform was needed, even if their recommendations were not adopted wholesale.
“If our recommendations aren’t the right way to go, then let’s do something different. But let’s do something,” Kean said.
Hamilton acknowledged that there was “no neat solution” to concerns about politicization, but he said much would depend on who was selected as intelligence chief.
The Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, has endorsed the commission’s proposals. President Bush supports creating a national intelligence director, but not with the full budgetary powers the commission had recommended.
On Tuesday, Bush announced his nomination of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., as director of the CIA.
Rep. Jane Harman of California, the senior Democrat on the intelligence panel, said she strongly favored adopting the commission’s recommendations. “Oddly, some still warn that implementation would be a rush to judgment,” Harman said.