Sunday, June 28, 2009

Biden to resolve the intelligence reorganization dispute

We all remember that the intelligence reorganization that happened in 2005 in order to prevent another 9-11 style attack was criticized by many as merely adding more tiers of bureaucracy without really allowing a proper coordination between the various intelligence agencies.

Ever since the office of the Director of National Intelligence was first created with John Negroponte at his helm, the battle of the sharing of power between the CIA and the DNI has gone on. Among other things, the DNI recently insisted that it should be given exclusive authority to decide on personnel and resources with regard to the U.S.’s intelligence representatives in other countries.

David Ignatius pointed out in The Washington Post that this battle between the two agencies might be a good thing since it would finally settle the question of who does what in the intelligence community, which has been murky since the reorganization. As per him, the power of picking appointees for intelligence in other countries should remain with the CIA, but the DNI must be given the role of briefing the President’s office on daily intelligence (this already happens), and also that this would require that CIA officials report to the DNI.

“Over time, that means the role traditionally played by CIA analysts should flow to the DNI -- so that we have an elite cadre of all-source analysts similar to Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee. Panetta should accept that diminution of CIA turf,” he wrote.

In Foreign Policy magazine, Philip Zelikow, however, made a case for the power of overseas appointments to be granted to the DNI. He stated that the kinds of tasks involved overseas are not always human-intelligence-related, and hence are not the CIA’s specialty:

“First, overseas operations are much more than the human intelligence (HUMINT) collection that CIA manages. In some countries, the main overseas work -- and staffing to support it -- may concern signals intelligence or other technical operations that are managed by the National Security Agency or the National Reconnaissance Office, among others.”

Whatever happens, Joe Biden is to make that call. Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic reports that since the National Security Council did not seem to have reached a resolution, resolving the prolonged dispute between the two offices now falls to Joe Biden, who is a member of the Council.

Ambinder points out that the consequences of this political squabble will have repercussions since, so far, the DNI has had restricted powers because CIA station chiefs are predominantly responsible for operations abroad, and the agency’s budget is controlled by the Department of Defense. This decision might change that, and hopefully, will result in a more coordinated Intelligence community after years of confusion.