On 17 December 2004, President Bush signed into law the broadest reorganization of the nation’s intelligence community in more than half a century. The legislation left many recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission still unfulfilled, including restructuring congressional oversight as well as broader strategic efforts to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Nor did it address commission recommendations to rethink U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia or to expand diplomatic efforts to win friends in the Muslim world.
Title III of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 reorganized the entire national security clearance system, although the subject received practically no attention in public discussion during the 9/11 Commission hearings. Because this change was not fully explored in either the House or Senate hearings or during floor debate, Title III includes contradictory provisions concerning the assignment of responsibilities for security clearance policies and procedures.
If not the sweeping change that some hoped for, the reforms do amount to a subtle, but important, recalibration in the balance of power over U.S. intelligence activities. A concern among intelligence watchers is whom President Bush will nominate as the nation’s first DNI. That choice may prove more important than any single reform, defining the DNI’s role and helping chart the course for U.S. intelligence for years to come.
The Intelligence reform act requires several key CIA analysis practices to be enforced throughout the entire intelligence community. For example, the national intelligence director must pick an ‘individual or entity’ to be responsible for ensuring that ‘elements of the intelligence community conduct alternative analysis of the information and conclusions in intelligence products.’ Another CIA practice being spread to the entire community is to have a quality control office or officer make sure that analyses conform to high standards. The law also requires the intelligence director to appoint an individual [within the director’s office] who would provide the function of the CIA’s ombudsman to whom analysts and others can raise concerns about problems that do not require a full investigation by the inspector general.
While the president’s signature on the bill to restructure the U.S. intelligence community “was the final act in a tumultuous legislative debate, it signalled the start of a new and perhaps equally turbulent period in which the intelligence director will need to assert authority” over 15 separate intelligence organizations. “It is virtually certain that there will be early struggles between the director and the Pentagon, which now controls most of the government’s estimated $40 billion annual intelligence budget but must cede much of its authority to the new official.” Clark comment: A careful reading suggests that the latter conclusion (on ceding authority) is not supported by the legislation. Further comment: After-the-fact developments confirm that the Secretary of Defence has “ceded” very little, if anything.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, passed in December 2004, does not significantly alter the U.S. Intelligence Community. The Department of Defence, its advocates in congressional oversight committees, and the White House worked to blunt the effects of the 9/11 Commission report and produce legislation that mollified the proponents of reform but did nothing more than reshuffle America’s intelligence leadership.
Patrick J. Ford, PhD, American Military University
Introduction to Intelligence: A Synthesis of Public Domain Sources
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004