Intelligence Reform in the 109th Congress

A Director's Forum with the Honorable Pat Roberts, Chairman, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Mar 17, 2005

Addressing new and emerging security challenges requires new and innovative thinking, more coordination, and rapid response. At this Director's Forum, Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, discussed the intelligence reforms currently underway to improve operations and streamline capabilities. He underscored that change is necessary to strengthen the capacity and coordination of all agencies within the intelligence community.

"It took the intelligence failures associated with 9/11 and the Iraq weapons of mass destruction assessments to build the historic consensus required for real change," Roberts said.

Last year, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—which oversees the 15 agencies comprising the intelligence community—released its 500-page report documenting serious intelligence flaws, followed soon after by the 9/11 Commission's report echoing many of the same findings. In response, Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 which, among various reforms, creates a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to handle the flow of critical information, independently of the interests of any one agency.

But some in the intelligence community fear reform and the senator stridently allayed those fears. "Change is good, and long overdue," Roberts said. "We need sustained fundamental change that becomes a continuous process of adaptation to newly emerging threats." Roberts also assured that the creation of the DNI position and any restructuring would not usurp any agency's authority or effectiveness. "The CIA and its important work will not in any way be diminished by the intelligence reform bill," Roberts said. "If these officers keep up the good work that so many of them are known for, the CIA must and will continue to play a vital role in protecting our nation's security."

The Committee's first order of business in promoting and improving intelligence reform is to confirm the DNI. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte likely will be appointed and confirmed for the job. Roberts also intends to focus on what he calls the "big three": improving human intelligence collection; improving analysis, and moving from information sharing to information access. The latter, he explained, would allow analysts to pull information from anywhere, at anytime, by searching all intelligence databases without bureaucratic delay.

In addition, the Committee is examining its resource allocation to make sure its budget additions are wisely spent. Roberts said, "For me, the ultimate goal is a more rationally organized intelligence community, with a clear chain of command and the accountability that comes with that," he said.

Other departments, including the FBI and Defense Department, are undergoing reform while the Senate Intelligence Committee works to ensure maximum coordination and minimum conflict. "We do not want 15 different agencies tripping over each other trying to recruit the same source, any more than we want an intelligence agency running amok abusing human rights."

Roberts sought to debunk the myth that the CIA has been systematically torturing detainees while Congress turns a blind eye. Roberts said, "Let me assure you the Senate Intelligence Committee is well aware of what the CIA is doing overseas in the defense of our nation and they are not torturing detainees." He added that the CIA's Inspector General is investigating allegations involving some individuals who may have acted on their own and will refer any findings of misconduct to the Department of Justice.

Offering one more point about national security, Roberts said, "In fighting the global war against terrorism, we need to restrain what I perceive as growing U.S. messianic instincts…where the United States feels it is both entitled and obligated to promote democracy—by force if necessary…I do not believe America wants to be or is an empire…we do not hunger for territory." He emphasized the need for law and order, stability, and liberty as the United States traverses a path of guarding freedom and stability around the international system. "Let us remember the tender roots of freedom—the right of all peoples—must be planted carefully in stony soil."

by Dana Steinberg, Outreach & Communications

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