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January 13, 2005

Star Wars - Pentagon Style


Yesterday's USA Today brought the latest installment in the ongoing saga about who will ultimately control the nation's intelligence agencies.

Actually, control isn't really the right word: no one "controls" anything that far-flung and embedded in the very fabric of everyday life.

Rather, it's a matter of who seems to call the shots.

Giant bureaucracies, to my way of thinking, can never, ever be controlled, only influenced.


The Pentagon has been locked in a death struggle with civilian branches of the intelligence apparatus ever since the intelligence-restructuring bill was first proposed by President Bush.

His creation of the position of intelligence "czar," one person directing the entire apparatus, civilian and military, made no one happy but the public, who greeted it as a panacea for 9/11-grade intelligence failures.

How yet another layer of bureaucracy would enhance rather than detract from getting key information to the President and his staff has always been beyond me, but hey, I'm just a blogging anesthesiologist: all that's far above my pay grade.

Anyhow, the Pentagon's latest sally is to push for the creation of a new czar of its own to run military intelligence.


This would come in the form of a 4-star chief of intelligence.

Four stars is as high a rank as military officers can have, and giving the defense intelligence chief 4-star rank would improve the "throw weight" of the Pentagon in the inevitable internecine battles that are bound to erupt between it and the CIA and other civilian agencies.


The 9/11 Commission stated that the then-CIA director, George Tenet, was accountable for failures leading to the catastrophe, although fully 80% of the overall U.S. intelligence budget is under Pentagon control.

Here's John Diamond's story.

    Pentagon Mulls Military Command for Intelligence

    The Pentagon is considering establishing a new four-star military command for intelligence, reflecting concern that the powerful civilian intelligence post created by Congress last year could weaken the Pentagon's grip on its vast intelligence assets.

    Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., a close ally of President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, says he is reviving the idea that was first floated last fall, after senior military intelligence officers in recent weeks privately signaled support.

    Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the idea is under consideration as part of an effort to improve military intelligence.

    The proposal continues a power struggle between the Pentagon and civilian branches of intelligence that almost thwarted passage of the 9/11 intelligence-restructuring bill last month.

    The Pentagon and its supporters on Capitol Hill want to ensure that the 9/11 law doesn't divert spy satellites controlled by the military from missions intended to support frontline troops.


    Behind the turf war is a debate over national security priorities.

    The proposal comes amid growing concern at the Pentagon that Iraqi insurgents are winning the intelligence war, striking U.S. and Iraqi government forces at will while hiding within Iraq's Sunni population.

    But there are strategic intelligence priorities competing for attention. With much of the nation's intelligence apparatus focused on Iraq, civilian intelligence has been unable to find al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden or produce a definitive picture of suspected nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran.

    Addressing the Heritage Foundation last week, Chambliss said his aim was to prevent the new director of national intelligence — the powerful civilian post created by the intelligence-restructuring bill that Congress approved last month — from gaining "an unrealistically large span of control" over military intelligence.

    Whitman said the idea is under consideration as part of the military intelligence overhauls being crafted by Steve Cambone, Rumsfeld's top adviser on intelligence.

    Officially, the Pentagon wants to see Chambliss' proposal in writing before endorsing it.

    "Nevertheless," Whitman said, "we are committed to all efforts to improve and strengthen the national intelligence community and defense intelligence capabilities to meet the needs of the warfighter."

    Cambone declined to comment.

    One reason the proposal is winning support among military intelligence officers is that it offers the opportunity for upgrading the Pentagon's top uniformed military intelligence official to four stars, the highest rank held by military officers.

    The number of four-star officers is limited, and includes such posts as the top two officers in each of the four military branches, the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others.

    Currently, the highest uniformed intelligence post, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is held by a three-star officer.

    The Pentagon is also looking at the Chambliss proposal as a way to ensure it has an intelligence officer of sufficient stature and rank to handle disputes that may arise with the new intelligence czar.

    One obstacle to the idea is the problem of finding money for the new support staff that would likely come with a new, higher-ranking military intelligence chief at a time when the Pentagon is under intense pressure from the White House to cut spending.

    Chambliss, a member of both the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, says he will co-sponsor legislation with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., to create a new organization, INTCOM, or Intelligence Command, headed by a four-star general or admiral.

    INTCOM would encompass the intelligence branches of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the three agencies under Pentagon control that run spy satellites and intercept enemy communications: the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.


    Chambliss said requiring the new civilian intelligence czar to direct eight military intelligence organizations is a formula for confusion.

    "How someone outside of the military, like the (director of national intelligence) could adequately and efficiently manage these vast intelligence capabilities by dealing with eight separate Department of Defense members is beyond me," Chambliss told the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

    Intelligence failures prior to the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq war stemmed primarily from poor human intelligence generated by the civilian CIA, Chambliss contends, yet the intelligence overhaul bill does little to improve human intelligence.

    The 9/11 Commission argued that the CIA director was being held accountable for failures even though 80% of the U.S. intelligence budget is under Pentagon control.

January 13, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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