The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee proposed sweeping reforms Sunday that would dismantle the CIA and remove several of the nation’s largest intelligence agencies from the control of the Pentagon.
The restructuring outlined by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is the most aggressive intelligence reform plan offered since the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks released its final report last month. The commission offered a blueprint for overhauling the nation’s spy services, but Roberts’ plan goes beyond it -- and further than the positions taken thus far by President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry.
Roberts’ plan would break the CIA into three pieces, with each reporting to a separate branch of a new, overarching National Intelligence Service. That agency would be led by a director with “complete budget and personnel authority” over all components of the nation’s spy community, including major programs that for decades have been run by the Department of Defense.
“We didn’t pay any attention to turf or agencies or boxes,” Roberts said in a television interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” describing legislation that he said already has the support of every Republican on his committee and would be shared with the White House for the first time today.
“I’m trying to build consensus around something that is very different. It’s very measured. It’s very bold,” he said.
By offering proposals that go far beyond the reforms Bush has so far endorsed, Roberts is likely to put new pressure on a White House that has had to fend off criticism it is not acting swiftly enough to fix systemic intelligence problems highlighted by the 2001 attacks and the failure to find evidence of banned weapons in Iraq.
“We look forward to reviewing the details of Sen. Roberts’ proposal,” White House spokesman Brian Besanceney said Sunday. “We have taken nothing off the table.”
Roberts has been a loyal Republican in the Senate, but he is not seen as a particularly close ally of the White House, unlike Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), who headed the House Intelligence Committee until Bush nominated him this month to become director of the CIA.
Roberts’ proposals also exceed changes envisioned by the Sept. 11 commission, which recommended the creation of a national intelligence director but did not suggest splitting up the CIA.
Kerry has endorsed all the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. Like Bush, he has not called for breaking up the CIA.
Rand Beers, Kerry’s national security advisor, said in a statement Sunday, “Sen. Roberts’ proposal is welcome and is very similar to the reforms offered by John Kerry but needs to become bipartisan to be fully successful.”
Beers said the president should “clarify the many positions coming out of his administration.”
Roberts’ plan met immediate resistance from the leading Democrat on his committee, Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller of West Virginia. “Sen. Roberts’ proposal departs significantly from the 9/11 Commission’s blueprint for reform,” he said in a statement.
“It evidently would do away with the Central Intelligence Agency as we know it at a time when the agency is leading a global fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Having not seen the details of the Roberts proposal, my reaction is that disbanding and scattering the Central Intelligence Agency at such a crucial time would be a severe mistake.”
Rockefeller also complained that “Sen. Roberts did not afford me or any Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee an opportunity to work with him in drafting the proposal.”
Another Democrat on the committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, said during the CBS program that he had not seen the bill but that “it’s a mistake to begin with a partisan bill no matter what is in it.”
The bill, which Roberts called the 9/11 National Security Protection Act, is also certain to face opposition from the CIA.
“This proposal makes no sense at all,” said a U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Rather than eliminating stove pipes, it would create more of them,” the official said, using a term that refers to divisions among agencies that inhibit information sharing.
“And rather than bringing disciplines together, it smashes them apart,” the official added.
In an indication of how fiercely the agency might fight such a proposal, the official said of the Roberts plan: “It’s headed nowhere fast.”
In recent testimony, acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin has urged caution in remaking the nation’s spying community and stressed that the CIA has made major strides since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Roberts’ plan is a surprisingly aggressive proposal from a Republican lawmaker who was seen as a staunch defender of the CIA when he became chairman of the intelligence panel in 2003.
But Roberts has become increasingly critical of the agency over the last year. His committee issued a report last month that was scathing in its criticism of the CIA’s prewar assertions that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was rebuilding its nuclear program.
That report cited a “broken” culture at the CIA, and an aide to Roberts said Sunday that the senator had become convinced that aggressive steps were required to repair it. “How do you adjust a broken corporate culture? You realign the corporation and give it a new culture.”
In a statement released Sunday, Roberts said his bill represents “real reform and it’s the right thing to do. We cannot allow turf battles to define this debate. No one agency, no matter how distinguished its history, is more important than U.S. national security.”
Roberts appeared to be referring to the CIA, an agency with more than 17,000 employees that was created in the aftermath of World War II. For more than half a century, the CIA has played the leading role in collecting and analyzing intelligence, and the White House has given no indication that it is prepared to dismantle the agency.
Under Roberts’ plan, the CIA and the other 14 U.S. intelligence agencies would report to a single director. Four deputies would have authority over branches managing collection, analysis, research and technology, and military support.
The CIA would be split into its three main components: the clandestine service that recruits spies overseas; the intelligence directorate that analyzes information; and the science directorate responsible for applying technology to the practice of espionage. Each would be assigned to one of the new national branches.
The FBI would remain intact, although its intelligence and counterintelligence divisions would report to the national intelligence director. The Pentagon would relinquish control over several of the nation’s largest spy agencies, including the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic eavesdropping and code-breaking.
The proposal to create an “assistant national intelligence director for military support” appears designed to address Pentagon concerns that a major reshuffling would weaken intelligence support for battlefield commanders. Roberts would also install a four-star general as director of military intelligence.
It was not clear whether this step would satisfy the Pentagon -- which stands to lose control over billions of dollars in intelligence spending -- or even key members of Congress.
Although Roberts said he had the support of the other eight Republicans on his committee, had not discussed the bill with Sen. John W. Warner, who serves on the intelligence panel and chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, according to a spokesman for Warner.
The Virginia Republican “certainly has not signed off on it,” the spokesman said. In recent hearings, Warner has been skeptical of major overhaul proposals.
Roberts said the bill would be shared this week with the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which has the lead role in drafting legislation to reform the nation’s intelligence community.
The Senate is expected to consider reform legislation in the fall.