Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

9/11 SHAM....Yesterday I suggested that George Bush's proposal for a new intelligence director was a ruse: by refusing to make the director part of the White House staff, he was keeping the form of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations but weakening the new director's actual power to do anything.

Still, at least the new director would have cabinet rank, right? And budget authority. And the various deputy leaders of the national intelligence apparatus (CIA, Pentagon, counterterrorism, and FBI) would still report to him. So even if he's not part of the White House, he'd still have a fair amount of power. Right?

Wrong:

Bush's proposals differed from the commission's recommendations in two critical ways. First, the president said the intelligence czar should not be part of the White House. Second, Bush said the new director should have "input" in, but not control over, the budgets of the country's 15 intelligence agencies.

....But experts and administration critics said that without budgetary authority over the entire intelligence apparatus, the new director would hold little sway over the agencies that are part of the Department of Defense, especially the powerful Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Together the defense intelligence organizations account for more than 80% of the intelligence budget, while the Central Intelligence Agency spends less than 20%. Precise figures are classified.

"A national intelligence director who doesn't have Cabinet rank or budget authority or work in the executive office of the president risks irrelevance. It's hard to see what kind of power base such an official would have," said Daniel Benjamin of the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Budgetary "input" doesn't mean a thing and Don Rumsfeld knows it. And although none of the news reports mention it, I'll bet that Bush doesn't intend for the undersecretary of defense for intelligence to report to the new director either, as the 9/11 Commission recommended.

Bottom line: the new director heads no agency, doesn't have cabinet rank, doesn't work in the White House, has no budget authority, and apparently has no reporting authority. In other words, he's just a figurehead.

This is a sham. If Bush doesn't like the 9/11 Commission's recommendations he should have the guts to say so. Instead, he and Rumsfeld have cooked up a transparent con: to the public at large it looks like he's acting decisively to take up the commission's recommendations, but anyone who knows how Washington works understands that he's really just giving them the finger.

This is a complete victory for the Pentagon. They'll be able to brush off this new director like a fly.

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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