Lieberman Calls For Accountability, Authority in Consideration of NID Proposal

As Prepared For Delivery Following is the text of Senator Lieberman’s opening statement for the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs August 16th hearing to consider the proposal for a National Intelligence Director:

Madam Chairman, thank you for holding this third in our series of hearings on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Our task is to create a cohesive community out of 10 intelligence agencies now scattered throughout government and it is a daunting one. But the recent specific terror threats – and the ongoing warning that terrorists may try to disrupt the November elections – is powerful incentive for us to do everything we can to find those who would harm us, root them out, and destroy their ability to strike. Chairman Collins and I have been directed by our Senate leaders to craft legislation to raise our intelligence capabilities to a higher level – to meet the new challenges of the 21st century – and to present that legislation for full Senate consideration by October 1. We know there will be resistance to shifting authorities and reassigning responsibilities. We expect it. In fact, we have already heard resistance from some of our witnesses at the last hearing and we will take their concerns into account. This mission, however, is more important than any one person’s portfolio or any one agency’s traditions. This is a mission that demands acting in the national interest as quickly as we can. There is no room for professional jealousy or turf protection. We are a nation at war, and we must maximize our ability to defend ourselves. I have generally advocated changes along the lines recommended by the 9/11 Commission. These changes include the creation of a National Intelligence Director with budget authority over most of the 15 federal intelligence agencies and a National Counterterrorism Center to analyze information collected by those agencies, then share it, and jointly plan operations to be carried out by the component agencies. The President has embraced the concept of a National Intelligence Director and a National Counterterrorism Center, although his comments and those of his Chief of Staff have not been encouraging in terms of giving both positions the command authority they need to close the disastrous gaps in intelligence that allowed September 11th to occur. Last week, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice appeared to have left the door open on the question of full budget authority for the NID, which is an encouraging sign, and I hope her comments indicate the White House is reconsidering its position on the issue. Control of the money, after all, is tantamount to power. The ability to control an agency’s budget is synonymous with the ability to lead that agency. The September 11th Commission provides us with a stark anecdote about the powerlessness of former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet to command and motivate intelligence agencies in other parts of the government. In a December 1998 memo to the intelligence community, Tenet declared war on Osama Bin Laden. But, as the Commission said, “There was no evident response.” That likely would not have happened if Tenet had greater authority to shape the budgets of those who ignored his call to action. Also, we know from the Commission’s report that agencies bickered over funding for the Predator Surveillance plane, possibly delaying deployment of this valuable asset in the struggle to locate and kill Osama Bin Laden before September 11th. The intelligence agencies say they are now cooperating more than they were. But no matter how you parse it, there is still no one person in charge of our $40 billion annual intelligence efforts – and, unbelievably, no one person in charge of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, told us there is no – quoting here – “joint integrated planner for that hunt. There is, instead,” he continued, “a number of disparate agencies with different legal authorities, all doing their thing, and then meeting every day, in a series of meetings, in many places, trying to make it all converge.” End quote. In other words, there is no single person in charge of overall intelligence. As I have said, we are now applying the best management techniques of the Cold War to our intelligence assets. A half a century later, the threat has changed dramatically, but our approach has not. It’s time to catch up to the times and adjust our intelligence community to meet the less centralized, more shadowy threats of 21st century terrorism. Today, we will hear from those who have been there, who know the intelligence community best. I am eager to hear if they agree on the need for a central authority – with corresponding powers – to manage the disparate components of our intelligence community. The status quo failed us in the past and it will fail us again if we do not act boldly. Let us not merely add more boxes and arrows to the flow chart. Our challenge is to realign the intelligence community to meet the new realities of the world we live in – to meet the harrowing realities of the terrorist threat. It is a tall order but the future safety of the American people depends upon it. Thank you.