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12/08/2004

"Compromise" on Intelligence Reform

Intelligence reform passed [edit: the House] Tuesday. Unfortunately, as Slate's Fred Kaplan and the Washington Post editorial board make clear, what passed wasn't a compromise so much as a surrender to the Duncan Hunter wing of the House Republican Caucus. Kaplan explains:

The explicit duties of the new national intelligence director, as laid out in the bill, have not yet been reported. Whatever they are, they will be strictly limited by the provision forbidding the abrogation of the defense secretary's statutory responsibilities.

This explains why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so strongly opposed the reforms recommended by the 9/11 commission and adopted by the Senate. They would have stripped him of those responsibilities—i.e., of his power over so vast and shrouded a chunk of the national security machinery. It is no coincidence that the lawmakers who put up the stiffest opposition to the Senate bill were members of the House Armed Services Committee. The Senate bill would have greatly reduced the piece of the federal pie that they routinely oversee.
This muddled reform bill is the direct result of administration obstruction (Kaplan singles out Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney) and Hastert's obscence rule:
"It's highly frustrating when you know you have the votes and you can't get it done," says Lee H. Hamilton, the vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission and a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Why has a bill with majority support in both chambers and the president's blessing fallen into limbo? Because House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has decided he will not bring it to a vote while it faces substantial resistance among House Republicans.
Update, 12/08/04 1:59 AM, EST: See also the Los Angeles Times, which notes that the surrender left many issues unresolved, including immigrant drivers' licenses and a border security fence. Via Mark Kleiman.

Update, 12/08/04 9:18 AM, EST: See also Dana Priest and Walter Pincus in the Washington Post, examining the complexity of the bill:
"Have they created a stronger, central, senior person in charge? It is not clear to me that they have," said Winston P. Wiley, a former senior CIA official and terrorism expert. "It's not that budgets and personnel are not important, but what's really important is directing, controlling and having access to the people who do the work. They created a person who doesn't have that."

The bill says the new director would "monitor the implementation and execution" of operations, a vague description that has perplexed intelligence officials scurrying to digest the legislation.

 

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