WASHINGTON — A bipartisan proposal being put together in the U.S. Senate to establish a new military intelligence command is raising concern among some defense officials who fear it is more likely to add unneeded bureaucracy than improve the management of intelligence assets like spy satellites.
U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) are drafting the bill, which would create a position for a four-star level officer to head a command that would oversee intelligence agencies including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency, Chambliss said during a Jan. 7 speech at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank here. The secretary of defense currently oversees those agencies and controls their budgets, but that authority will shift to the newly created director of national intelligence (DNI).
Chambliss and Nelson are both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Chambliss also sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The new intelligence director was created by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act signed into law on Dec. 17 by U.S. President George W. Bush.
The new command would be called Intelligence Command, or INTCOM, Chambliss said. It would include personnel from existing military intelligence agencies as well as some new staff and would likely be located in the Washington area, according to a Senate aide.
Bush has not named his pick for DNI, whom the law indicates should be in place by this spring.
As discussion of the creation of a DNI grew over the course of the past year, senior Pentagon officials voiced concern that it could cause problems for military users of intelligence data. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that placing the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and National Security Agency under an intelligence director could “conceivably lead to some efficiencies in some aspects of collection [and] some modest but undefinable improvement.”
But Rumsfeld also told the committee during an Aug. 17 hearing that moving authority over those agencies from the Pentagon to this new position could create “barriers or filters” between troops and intelligence data, and stated that the inability to process all of the collected information was the main problem facing those agencies today.
During his speech at the Heritage Foundation, Chambliss said that size of the military intelligence agencies makes them too difficult for the new director to oversee alone. Putting those agencies under the command of a four-star officer would give the DNI a single point of contact for military intelligence issues, and could facilitate increased cooperation among the agencies, he said.
“How someone outside of the military, like the DNI, could adequately and efficiently manage these vast intelligence capabilities … is beyond me,” Chambliss said. “This is a major issue, and it must be addressed; otherwise the DNI may have an unrealistically large span of control.”
The Pentagon already has an undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a position created in 2003 as the military made organizational changes in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
However, the Senate staffer said that the INTCOM commander would complement the undersecretary by focusing on the requirements of troops in the field, while the undersecretary would handle policy issues. A similar relationship exists today between the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict and the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, the aide said.
The Pentagon has a limited number of four-star billets, and would either need congressional authorization to create a new slot or eliminate an existing one, the staffer said. No decision has been made yet on how that issue should be addressed, the aide said.
Chambliss and Nelson’s proposal is not a sure thing to be adopted, the staffer said. While some senators and aides have responded positively to the concept, others have expressed the desire to hold off on additional changes to the intelligence community’s structure at this time, the staffer said.
Defense experts also are skeptical that a new intelligence officer is needed at this time. Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a think tank here, said that creation of a DNI with budget authority over the military intelligence agencies may have already added too much bureaucracy to the decision-making process, which would likely be bogged down further by the possible addition of INTCOM.
“Every time a competing center of power is created, it slows down the coordination and decision-making, ” Thompson said.
Jim Lewis, director of technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another think tank here, said that the Chambliss-Nelson proposal may be intended to help the Pentagon maintain its influence over decisions regarding spy satellites and other assets, but questioned the need for it given the existing undersecretary for intelligence and intelligence officers on the Pentagon’s joint staff.