Ending Interagency Feuding

May 26, 2005
Daniel B. Prieto

The Washington Times

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte are new to the cabinet, but they've been Washington insiders for long enough to know the value of alliances. As Mr. Chertoff nears completion of a top-to-bottom review of the young Department of Homeland Security and Mr. Negroponte assembles his team to fix the intelligence community, they risk being the odd men out against the Washington behemoths that are the object of reform — the Defense Department, CIA and FBI. By working together, these Davids could be a match for the Goliaths and forge the change the intelligence community has needed since long before September 11.

The DNI and DHS both have broad statutory authority to drive efforts to improve information sharing and intelligence, but each has little explicit power over the incumbent intelligence organizations. That lack of clear authority, plus skillful resistance by FBI Director Robert Mueller and then-CIA-director George Tenet, badly undermined DHS intelligence efforts. In 2003, the FBI and CIA took over the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the Terrorist Screening Center, two key organizations that many in Washington felt should have been housed in DHS. As a result, Homeland Security's information analysis unit has been failing to carry out significant responsibilities assigned to it under the law ever since.

The DNI must succeed where DHS failed.

Mr. Negroponte will have his hands full. Last-minute congressional compromises significantly limited the DNI's powers in order to defend Defense Department, CIA and FBI turf. Making matters worse, competition within the intelligence community has risen as the FBI and Defense Department have opportunistically taken advantage of CIA blunders on Iraq intelligence to boost their own capabilities. The FBI has created a separate Intelligence Directorate: The Defense Department is creating a new spy division, the Strategic Support Branch, and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone is seeking to consolidate the Pentagon intelligence apparatus under his control to become a de-facto "mini DNI." With unclear authority and interagency rivalry as high as ever, the DNI's success is not a given, but will be determined by the outcome of his skirmishes with Mr. Mueller, CIA Director Porter Goss and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld similar to the battles already faced, and lost, by DHS.

That's why an alliance between Messrs. Chertoff and Negroponte makes sense. Allying with DHS puts another Cabinet-level official in the DNI's corner.

Even better, Mr. Chertoff knows the FBI inside and out, given his previous job as head of the Department of Justice's criminal division. With Mr. Chertoff's reliable backing, Mr. Negroponte stands a better chance of winning the interagency fights that will have to be refereed by the White House.

DHS gives the DNI greater access to first responders and to border and immigration officers, just the kind of non-traditional intelligence sources that may make the difference when it comes to stopping the next September 11.

Furthermore, while Mr. Negroponte is authorized to hire a new staff of 500, they'll be busy trying to coordinate tens of thousands of CIA, FBI and Defense personnel. Cooperation with DHS can lighten Mr. Negroponte's load with the additional asset of the 200-300 analysts in the DHS information analysis group.

For Mr. Chertoff, aligning closely with the DNI provides his best opportunity to make Homeland Security's information analysis unit relevant again, thus overturning the conventional wisdom that the advent of the DNI would only further diminish the intelligence role of DHS. This would be a welcome shot in the arm for DHS at a time when morale is shaky, management turnover is high, and the department is beset by calls from think tanks and Congress for its reorganization.

Meaningful intelligence reform and a strong DHS are essential if we are to prevent the next September 11. In order to have both, the DNI would do well to leverage Homeland Security in the service of its efforts to reform the intelligence community. For DHS, working closely with the DNI can allow it to fulfill the intelligence role Congress intended. Working closely together, DHS and the DNI will be better able to lead the post-September 11 reforms and ensure the American people get what they asked for when the agencies were created.

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