Debate Begins on Historic, Bipartisan Intelligence Reform Legislation

WASHINGTON–Following is Senator Lieberman’s statement, as prepared for delivery, on introduction of the Collins-Lieberman National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, S. 2845:

Mr. President – it gives me great pride today to join with Chairman Collins in presenting to the Senate this historic, bipartisan legislation, the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. The Chairman deserves enormous credit for shepherding this bill through the Governmental Affairs Committee and for consulting with so many interested parties to produce transformational reform, which, when implemented, will make all Americans safer. I say transformational reform because today we face a different kind of enemy than we have in the past. Terrorists work across national boundaries and are adept at changing to meet new circumstances. They will not be defeated solely by vast military power, or by an intelligence network organized to fight the Cold War. We need to restructure our intelligence capabilities to meet the challenges of 21st century warfare. And that, I submit, is what the legislation Senator Collins and I are presenting to you today will do. We owe a great debt to the seminal work of the 9/11 Commissioners and their staff, whose recommendations we relied upon in drafting our bill. The Commission spent a year and a half studying the weaknesses in our national defenses that left us so vulnerable on September 11, 2001. They interviewed more than 1,200 witnesses, reviewed millions of documents, held 12 public hearings, and produced a compelling narrative, chilling in its implications. Under the brilliant leadership of Governor Kean and Congressman Hamilton, this bipartisan Commission made 41 recommendations to strengthen our land against terrorists. The two that they have called the most urgent –a strong National Intelligence Director and a National Counterterrorism Center – form the centerpiece of our legislation. We owe a deep debt of gratitude, as well, to the courageous families of those who died on September 11, 2001. We are here today because they turned their personal grief into an inestimable force for change, playing a vital role in getting the 9/11 Commission established, working relentlessly to help the Commission through rough patches, and embracing and championing its final recommendations. They are a mighty, moral force. I continue to be awed and inspired by them. When the Commission released its report on July 22, few would have predicted that legislation would be on the Senate floor less than two months later, and the Senate would be poised to debate the most far-reaching reforms of our nation’s intelligence community in a half century. In fact, many predicted it would never happen. But the 9/11 Commission confirmed what we knew: the work of protecting our nation from terrorist attacks cannot wait and must not be delayed. Business as usual simply is not an option. During August and early September, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held eight hearings on the Commission’s recommendations and drafted a bill based on that work. Last week, after two days of markup and the consideration of more than 40 amendments, the measure was voted out of Committee unanimously with amendments that strengthened the authority of the National Intelligence Director – the person we now lack, who would oversee all of our national intelligence collection and analysis, and forge the unity of effort we need across multiple agencies that protect our national security. Following the example of the 9/11 Commission, our Committee members worked not as partisans – even though we are in the midst of an election season. Instead, we put our party labels aside and worked across party lines because the security of the American people is more important than partisan politics. Although we have acted with extraordinary speed, we have been deliberate. Our legislation is based not only on the comprehensive work of the 9/11 Commission, but on the work of the joint House and Senate Intelligence Committees’ inquiry, on the expertise of scores of experts who have been thinking about this subject for decades, and on critical reports dating back almost 50 years. The fact is we are not moving too fast. Three years have passed since the attacks that stunned us into the realization that terrorists will stop at nothing to destroy us. The Commission has said, “We are safer. But we are not safe,” which is why we are moving so swiftly to modernize the management of our intelligence agencies. Our enemies continue to plot against us, and intelligence is the first line of defense against those plots. As the Commission report noted: “Not only does good intelligence win wars, but the best intelligence enables us to prevent them from happening altogether.” Mr. President, these are not ordinary times. Our citizens are still at risk of terrorist attack. Our military is on wartime footing abroad, and so too we must be on wartime footing at home. September 11, 2001, reminds us that we cannot afford to put reform off any longer. The 9/11 Commission Report’s Indictment of the Status Quo In its extensive report, the 9/11 Commission indicted the status quo of America’s intelligence community and insisted on revolutionary change. The report said, and I’m quoting here, “As presently configured, the national security institutions of the U.S. government are still the institutions constructed to win the Cold War.” End quote. The Cold War is over, Mr. President. We are now engaged in a long-term war on terror. The old structures for intelligence must give way to new ones. Part of the problem with the old structure, the Commission found, is that it has no quarterback. Commission Vice-Chair Lee Hamilton told us, quoting: “A critical theme that emerged throughout our inquiry was the difficulty of answering the question: ‘Who is in charge? Who ensures that agencies pool resources, avoid duplication and plan jointly? Who oversees the massive integration and unity of effort to keep America safe?’ Too often, the answer is no one.” In other words, no one below the level of the President is charged with the responsibility of overseeing a diffuse organization spread out across 15 agencies. No one has the authority to knit together the efforts of these disparate elements and, therefore, no one is accountable for mistakes. In excruciating detail, the Commission report described the consequences of this void. One of its most stunning findings was the result of a December 4, 1998, directive issued by then Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet declaring war against al Qaeda. Although the directive came from the head – at least by title – of the entire U.S. intelligence community, there was no response. Nothing. Nada. Tenet’s declaration of war, the Commission concluded, “had little overall effect on mobilizing the CIA or the intelligence community.” The fallout, as we all know, was a frustrating series of missed opportunities and an agonizing failure to piece together good information that different agencies had gathered – the failure to “connect the dots.” Our nation deserves better, but that same structure essentially remains in place today. At its core, the intelligence community as it is configured today prevents us from drawing upon the experienced people, the ample resources, and the good information that is available within the community to achieve a truly unified national effort to fight an effective war against terrorism. Part of the problem is lack of leadership, part is a top-to-bottom, vertical bureaucratic organization – “stovepipes.” Too often, each of the 15 intelligence agencies resides in its own universe, walled off from alternative points of view, failing to share information, and adjusting too slowly to new and emerging threats. As the Commissioners put it, on page 353 of their report, and I quote: “Information was not shared, sometimes inadvertently or because of legal misunderstandings. Analysis was not pooled. Effective operations were not launched. Often the handoffs of information were lost across the divide separating the foreign and domestic agencies of the government. However the specific problems are labeled, we believe they are symptoms of the government’s broader inability to adapt how it manages the new challenges of the 21st Century. Agencies are like a set of specialists in a hospital, each ordering tests, looking for symptoms, and prescribing medications. What is missing is the attending physician who makes sure they work as a team.” End of quote. Today, the head of the intelligence community – the DCI – only has effective control over the funds of one agency within that intelligence community, the CIA. This means that roughly 80% of the national intelligence budget is not even controlled by the DCI. We may have won the Cold War with this structure. But as has been made painfully clear, it is inadequate for the war on terror. We have learned many lessons the hardest way possible – and agencies are now sharing more information and are better coordinating their activities. But the system is still not as well organized as it should be to get maximum security from the billions of dollars we invest every year in our intelligence community. Phillip Zelikow, the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, spelled out the problem in testimony before our Committee He told of his travels to Pakistan and Afghanistan to visit representatives of U.S. agencies working in the border areas to determine how they were integrating their hunt for Osama Bin Laden. He asked his hosts…and I quote here: “Well, where is the joint strategic plan for the hunt for Bin Laden? Where is the person who is in charge every day of the integrated strategic plan, [who] updates that plan every day of how we’re hunting Bin Laden?” What he found was that three years after 9/11, “there is no such joint plan. There isn’t a joint integrated planner for that hunt” That is no way to protect the American people from terrorism. National Intelligence Director The legislation we are presenting to the Senate today deals with these deficiencies by adopting two of the three Commission recommendations identified by its leaders as the most urgent and important. The first is creation of a National Intelligence Director – the one person accountable for the entire intelligence community. The second is to establish a National Counterterrorism Center. Under our proposal, the National Intelligence Director would be the President’s primary intelligence advisor, with strong budget, personnel, and tasking authorities to break down the “stovepipes” and knit the various intelligence agencies into an agile network. Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton told our Committee they recommended a National Intelligence Director, quote, “not because we want to create some new ‘czar’ or a new layer of bureaucracy to sit atop the existing bureaucracy. We come to this recommendation because we see it as the only way to effect what we believe is necessary: a complete transformation of the way the Intelligence Community does its work.” End of quote. The National Intelligence Director will have strong authority to reprogram and transfer money and people so that he or she may react quickly to changing threats, and direct intelligence resources – government wide – when and where they are most needed. We heard from many witnesses during the Governmental Affairs Committee hearings about the direct link between budget authority and the ability of the NID to forge the unity of effort we are looking for. The DCI currently has authority to reprogram, but we were told it is rarely exercised, as the process takes from three to five months to complete. Former CIA Director James Woolsey called it the Washington version of the golden rule – whoever has the gold makes the rules. Let me quote him. “If budget execution authority is given to the NID, he will or she will have a much better ability to say to the Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense, ‘look, I sympathize. I understand. I know this fluent Arabic language linguist is a very rare asset. But you didn’t hear me. I really need her or him.’” Unlike the current Director of Central Intelligence, the National Intelligence Director would not run the CIA while simultaneously trying to manage the entire intelligence community. The 9/11 Commission told us what many others have said before: the job of being the government’s principle intelligence administrator and the President’s principle intelligence advisor, on top of running the day-to-day operations of the CIA, on top of forging a real community out of disparate intelligence agencies is too much to expect of one individual, no matter how talented. Under our plan, the National Intelligence Director will no longer run the day-to-day operations of the CIA, and thus will be free to concentrate on uniting the entire intelligence community so that its efforts will be more effective. Our proposal puts the National Intelligence Director in charge of the budget of the National Intelligence Program – which will encompass all programs and activities concerned with “national” intelligence – in other words, intelligence pertaining to the interests of the entire nation, rather than just one department. I know there are concerns about how these changes will affect our military so let me be very clear: Intelligence for use by the military services will continue to be a top priority of the National Intelligence Director and of our intelligence community. Support of our warfighters will always be a primary concern of our intelligence community. In this new organization, the warfighter will benefit because, as the National Intelligence Director takes charge, our overall intelligence will become more effective, including for the warfighter. Finally, the National Intelligence Director will have the assistance of a newly-created, cabinet-level Joint Intelligence Community Council – headed by the Intelligence Director and composed of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, as well as the Attorney General. The Joint Intelligence Community Council will advise the NID and ensure the timely execution of the NID’s priorities within each member’s respective department. This reform, we believe, will bring direction and focus to the intelligence community’s work. National Counterterrorism Center The second major recommendation of the 9/11 Commission is the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center. The center is designed to overcome the failure to share information and coordinate activities, which, as the 9/11 Commission report showed, helped create the vulnerabilities that the terrorist exploited on 9/11. Our legislation establishes a National Counterterrorism Center with two key functions, as recommended by the Commission. First, it will build on the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, now housed at the CIA, and ensure that intelligence from all sources is integrated and analyzed. In other words, it will connect the dots. Second, it will develop interagency counterterrorism plans, assign agencies’ responsibilities, and monitor and report on implementation of the plans. NCTC’s planning will be at both the strategic level, such as “winning hearts and minds” in the Muslim world, and at a more tactical level, such as hunting for Bin Laden. Here’s what 9/11 Commission Chairman Kean and Vice-Chair Hamilton said about the NCTC. Quoting now: “Today, we face a transnational threat. That threat respects no boundaries and makes no distinction between foreign and domestic. The enemy is resourceful, flexible and disciplined. We need a system of management that is as flexible and resourceful as is the enemy. We need a system that can bring all the resources of government to bear on the problem – and that can change and respond as the threat changes. We need a model of government that meets the needs of the 21st century. We believe that the National Counterterrorist Center will meet that test.” End of quote. Establishment of the NCTC is a critical reform because it will triumph over the bureaucratic inaction and failure to share information described by the Commission on page 353 of its report. In late 1999, the National Security Agency analyzed communications to and from and about some of the future terrorist hijackers. NSA correctly concluded that someone named “Nawaf” and his accomplice named “Khalid” were part of, quoting here, “an operational cadre” and that “something nefarious might be afoot.” End quote. But the NSA did not think its job was to research the identities of these men because it saw itself as a support agency that should energetically respond to requests, but not initiate investigations. It turns out there was additional, valuable information right in the NSA computers, which, had it been checked, might have thwarted the 9/11 plot. The Commission tells how the CIA tracked Nawaf and Khalid to Kuala Lumpur and then lost them when they traveled on to Bangkok. The evidence in one of the men’s passports indicated that a possible destination and interdiction point was the United States. Yet, no one alerted the Immigration and Naturalization Service or the FBI. And, indeed, the men arrived in Los Angeles, unhindered, on January 15, 2000, and became two of the 19 September 11 terrorist attackers. The Commission report notes the response of different officials to this information. There was confusion about who was supposed to do what. The head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at the time did not recall why the case fell off the radar. The director of the al Qaeda unit in CIA did not think it was his job to determine what actions should or should not be taken. Under our legislation, the NCTC will develop interagency plans to make sure roles and responsibilities for counterterrorism missions are clear. It will monitor the implementation of those plans to make sure no one drops the ball again. National Intelligence Centers As the Commission recommended, the National Intelligence Director will also have authority to create new National Intelligence Centers to truly integrate capabilities across the intelligence community and accomplish critical intelligence missions. The centers will focus on threats such as weapons of mass destruction, or geographic areas, such as North Korea, that reflect priorities established by the National Security Council. The centers will help organize the intelligence community as a whole to address missions now being addressed in separate stovepipes. Information Sharing Our legislation also responds to the need, identified by the Markle Foundation and endorsed by the 9/11 Commission, to establish a dedicated network designed to improve our ability to share information about terrorist threats. The bill would establish an information sharing network to facilitate and promote the sharing of terrorism information throughout the federal government, with state and local agencies, and where appropriate, with the private sector. The network will ensure that appropriate information is shared. It will be developed with guidelines for protecting privacy and civil liberties. Senator Durbin has for years championed the idea that we need a concerted effort to make sure that information is shared throughout our government in a systematic way – a “Manhattan Project,” as he likes to call it, for information sharing. His contributions to the information sharing provisions of this bill have been considerable. Civil Liberties In its report, the 9/11 Commission said, “The choice between security and liberty is a false choice, as nothing is more likely to endanger America’s liberties than the success of a terrorist attack at home. Our history has shown us that insecurity threatens liberty. Yet, if our liberties are curtailed, we lose the values that we are struggling to defend.” End of quote. This legislation creates a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission, to ensure privacy and civil liberties concerns are protected as the President and executive agencies propose and implement policies related to the war on terror. The bill will give the board two functions. It will advise the President and other federal officials at the front-end, when they are proposing policies to protect the nation against terrorism, to ensure that the protection of privacy and civil liberties are also appropriately considered. And it will investigate and review government actions at the tail end – reviewing the implementation of policies to ensure the government pays appropriate respect to privacy and civil liberties as policies are implemented. Members of the Board will be appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, and will serve fixed, six-year terms. No more than three members of the five-member Board may be of the same party. These and other provisions in the bill will provide assurance to the American people that, as we change our intelligence structure to improve our security, we will not sacrifice the hard won liberties that define who we are as nation. Independence Mr. President, allow me to mention just a few more of the many important provisions in this bill. We have worked hard to ensure the independence of our intelligence in several ways. First, in one of the few areas where we diverged from the Commission recommendations, we removed the National Intelligence Director from the Executive Office of the President to create a free-standing and independent agency. Commission Vice-Chair Hamilton has since agreed this is a preferable arrangement. Senator Rockefeller, bringing to this venture his unmatched expertise as Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee, deserves special credit for the idea of creating an Ombudsman of the National Intelligence Authority, who will serve as an independent counselor for complaints, and an independent reviewer of analytic products from throughout the intelligence community, to ensure an absence of politicization and bias. Senator Rockefeller is also the author of the National Intelligence Reserve Corps, allowing for temporary reemployment of former intelligence employees to meet emergency mission requirements. The legislation requires the National Intelligence Director to provide intelligence that is independent of political considerations, and it establishes, within the Ombudsman’s office, an Analytic Review Unit to provide an independent and objective evaluation of the quality of the intelligence analysis of all elements of the intelligence community. Senator Levin has helped improve Congress’ access to intelligence and to require that the information is free from bias. Under our proposal, the Director of the NCTC need not obtain clearance before testifying before Congress. Additionally, the National Intelligence Director will be responsible for providing Congress with intelligence assessments and other information Congress needs to perform its legislative and oversight roles. Senator Pryor, too, has added significantly to this bill. Because of his efforts, we will have reports from the Government Accountability Office providing us with an assessment as to how this legislation is actually being implemented – enabling Congress to be more effective in its oversight. Conclusion Mr. President, the 9/11 Commission report tells us, quoting now, “Our biggest weapon of defense is our intelligence system. If that doesn’t work, our chances of being attacked are so much greater. So our major recommendation is to fix that intelligence system and do it as fast as possible.” End of quotation. Senator Collins and I have taken those words to heart and are offering this historic and transformational reform in direct response to them. We have hewn very closely to the Commission’s intelligence reform recommendations and are grateful to have its support for our proposal. Yes, we are moving quickly, but we are moving quickly for a reason. Our terrorist enemies are not mired in bureaucratic tradition. They are flexible, creative, and changeable in their cruelty, and we must be just as flexible, creative, and quick to change. If we hesitate, we will surely pay the consequences – again. Philip Mudd, deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told the Committee, that, quote, “We need clear, clean, short lines of command and control. Opportunities to roll up a terrorist or prevent an attack demand immediate action. This is a war of speed.” End of quote. To meet the new challenges of 21st Century warfare, we must establish a 21st century management system for our vast intelligence capabilities. Only then will we succeed in harnessing the considerable resources and talents of our government – across multiple agency boundaries – for the unity of effort required to vanquish an enemy as vicious as the one we face. In a Congress that has become increasingly partisan, and in the middle of an election season, Senator Collins and I have put aside our partisan labels and worked instead for the national interest. Every member of the Governmental Affairs Committee did the same. There is now significant political consensus for change. Momentum is building. And I am confident our colleagues will rise to the challenge and act in the national interest. We are, after all, a nation at war; a war like none we have ever fought. We must maximize and transform our ability to defend our nation. We cannot do that without the best intelligence possible. Senator Collins and I are confident that the proposal we put before you today will result in the best intelligence possible. I thank you for your support and look forward to a good debate.