Holding the Government Accountable

DoD Dominance of Intelligence: Some Context

So some in Congress are worried that putting a four-star general in charge of the civilian Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would somehow give the military greater control over the nation's intelligence apparatus. If this isn�t a sign that Congressional oversight of intelligence is lacking, we don�t know what is. Indeed, as Judge Richard Posner recently noted, the institution �most ambitious to expand its intelligence activities� is the Defense Department--and is already doing it so well that military intelligence is �out of the practical control of the DNI.�

First, pertinent legislative history about intelligence chiefs: Since the CIA�s beginning, it has been, as our august legislators put it, �the sense of Congress� that �it [wa]s desirable� to have as either Director or Deputy Director �a commissioned officer of the Armed forces, whether in active or retired status,� or someone who has �by training or experience, an appreciation of military intelligence activities and requirements.� Congress specifically stated that only one position could be filled by an active duty officer, and further mandated that such an officer be removed from the Defense Department�s chain of command.

In 2004, when the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act severed the dual DCIA/DCI roles (acronym translation: where the head of the CIA also headed the entire intelligence community) and created the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Congress amended the existing statute, and applied the language to the new DNI and his Deputy. For some reason, however, Congress neglected to re-apply the same language to the new CIA Director and Deputy Director positions (indeed, Congress actually forgot to re-authorize the Deputy Director position altogether). But last year--in addition to correcting that little boo-boo--the Senate intelligence committee suddenly decided, after all these years, that the top two CIA officials should only hail from �civilian life.� (Of 19 CIA directors, six have been active-duty flag officers, five have had some previous military service as commissioned officers, and three have previous served as intelligence officers.)

Yet the committee decided to put no actual time limit on �civilian life�. In other words, as far as the Senate�s concerned, resigning one�s commission, taking a day off and then accepting the president�s nomination to be number one or two at CIA is enough to constitute an �appointment from civilian life�. Sounds more like �appointment through a revolving door� to us. (The point is, however, somewhat academic, as the Senate�s intel bill never even got voted on--as such, the matter of requirements and prohibitions for DCIA might be one the Senate wants to resolve before Hayden�s confirmation hearings).

But even more galling about the sudden flurry of Congressional concern about the Pentagon�s influence over intelligence is that the biggest enabler of expanded military intelligence power has been Congress itself. The Armed Services� committees happily (and quietly) acceded to Donald Rumsfeld�s request to create a Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence in 2002; in 2003, the Senate committee took about 15 minutes to confirm Stephen Cambone after a farcical hearing. Since then, Cambone�s set to building himself an empire that�s rife with red flags, ranging from unresolvedAbu Ghraib related matters, to sketchy overseas covert units to troubling domestic intelligence activities. The state of things at the miltiary�s National Ground Intelligence Centerhasn�t exactly inspired confidence.

National Geospatial Agency chief Lt. Gen. James Clapper has been pushed out for pushing back against Rumsfeld and Cambone. The Defense Intelligence Agency, which acquitted itself so well in handling Iraqi defectors like Curveball (not), is now, courtesy Senate confirmation last year, headed by a career artilleryman.

There are no shortage of reasons to be leery of Hayden as potential DCIA. But if Congress is really worried about expanding military control of intelligence, they might want to consider the performance not of four-star generals who�ve been statutorily taken out of the military flow chart, but of certain Pentagon civilian officials who direct military intelligence policy and generals under them.