News - A czar by any other name is still a czar

Bush doesn't want an intelligence baron; he wants a bureaucrat

The presidency of Jimmy Carter was widely derided as fundamentally inept; honest, but inept. Just about everything the only president from Georgia touched turned to mush.

Carter labeled himself a "reformer," yet even in this capacity he failed to reform much of anything. Take the federal civil service — the U.S. Civil Service Commission, as it had been known for decades at the time Carter took office. Determined to "reform" the civil service, Carter dramatically changed the face of the federal agency charged with overseeing the vast federal work force. How did he accomplish this Herculean feat? By dissolving the Civil Service Commission and replacing it with not one, but two federal bureaucracies, the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board. That was Carter's legacy of "reform": Replace one bureaucracy with two.

As Yogi Bera is reported to have remarked, "It's deja vu all over again." Except this time it's not something as benign as the civil service that's being reformed by doubling the bureaucracy. The Republican administration of George W. Bush is proposing to "reform" America's foreign intelligence apparatus by creating yet another bureaucracy.

Responding to the publicity surrounding the recent release of the 9/11 Commission's report, which included a call to revamp and "centralize" the country's foreign intelligence apparatus, the White House has announced support for a new post: director of national intelligence.

Undoubtedly, Bush was also mindful of Sen. John Kerry's criticism for not moving fast enough. As politically motivated and ill-timed as the Democratic nominee's remarks were, President Bush is making a serious mistake in rushing to create this new layer of bureaucracy in an already over-bureaucratized intelligence community. The response by the administration to "do something" in reaction to the Commission's report was confusing and may very well engender less rather than more or better coordination of foreign intelligence.

The intelligence business is a peculiar one. There is no national constituency to sing its praises at budget time. Most of its heroes — and there are many — are unknown to all but their families and CIA personnel managers. Its operatives move in a shadowy world of dead drops, cutouts, pseudonyms, unbelievably sophisticated technology and highly classified source material.

Perhaps most important to keep in mind is that bureaucracy, or more precisely, the bureaucratic mind-set, is anathema to good intelligence gathering and analysis, and covert operations. Good intelligence, and successful execution of covert operations, requires vast imagination and a willingness to take risks — two characteristics not among those included in job descriptions for "government bureaucrats."

The ultimate product of intelligence gathering — analysis of the bits and pieces of information that stream into the CIA and other agencies into a coherent and logical set of "likely" actions and motives — requires another commodity not often found in searching among politicians and their institutions. That commodity is independence. Unfortunately, the quick, almost knee-jerk response by the administration to the 9/11 Commission report will not lead to greater independence by the CIA. If anything, it will create further bureaucratic confusion and make independent analysis even more difficult to come by.

The fundamental problem with the CIA and the rest of our intelligence community is not the CIA. The problem is, neither this president nor any of his predecessors since the CIA was created have been willing to do what those two laws contemplated: Giving the CIA director the power to set priorities for the intelligence community, ensure they are met, and set the budgets that will determine those priorities. No presidents have done this because it would mean taking on the defense establishment, which, through its myriad military and military-related intelligence offices, controls the lion's share of the reported $40 billion-plus annual foreign intelligence budget.

One after another of the CIA chiefs have maintained the title, but sadly, not the fact of being the top intelligence official to the president. They have not had control of the money; the "gold seam" as spy novelist John LeCarre put it. They could. All it would take is a president willing to stand up to the Pentagon.

President George W. Bush unfortunately is letting slip by a golden opportunity to take a historic step to create a truly central intelligence director. Instead, the president has opted for the tiny, even timid step of creating a new bureaucracy, the DNI. How this post differs in its mission from two existing offices — the national security advisor and the secretary of homeland security — remains unclear at this point.

One thing is clear, however. The DNI will not be an "intelligence czar." The DNI will be the proverbial redheaded stepchild, loved by none and blamed by many. The irony is that if President Bush really wanted an intelligence czar, he needn't have looked any further than that secure office on the banks of the Potomac just 15 minutes from the White House. You see, the director of the CIA already is an intelligence czar. All that's been lacking for him to really serve in that capacity has been the go-ahead from the president. Unfortunately, this president, like his predecessors going back to Harry Truman, has failed to empower him as such.

Bob Barr served on the House Judiciary Committee when he represented parts of Cobb County and Northwest Georgia in Congress from 1995 to 2003.

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