WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., reacting to recent press reports, expressed concern Tuesday that the administration may be planning to withhold intelligence information from the Intelligence Division of the new Department of Homeland Security. In a letter to President Bush, dated December 17, Lieberman outlined Congress’ intent for the intelligence agencies to share with the new Department, as a matter of routine, a variety of information, including unevaluated data.
“The assumption behind the legislation is that unless you or future Presidents determine otherwise, all information about terrorist threats that the Secretary considers necessary, including so-called “unevaluated intelligence” (sometimes called “raw intelligence) possessed by intelligence agencies, would be routinely shared with the Department of Homeland Security,” Lieberman wrote.
Noting the catastrophic consequences of the intelligence agencies’ failure to share information in the months leading up to September 11, 2001, Lieberman urged the president to exercise “clear and decisive” leadership to ensure the Department of Homeland Security has the information it needs to protect the American people.
“It appears that, in order to protect their own turf, some key agencies may already be working against the spirit of the legislation,” Lieberman wrote. “If so, I call on you to intervene immediately and clarify to the intelligence community and the nation that the new Department will play the central role in fusing and analysing intelligence that Congress intended it to play.”
Attached is a copy of the letter:
December 17, 2002
The Honorable George W. Bush
United States of America
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing concerning information in a December 6, 2002 article in The Washington Post entitled “Homeland Security Won’t Have Diet of Raw Intelligence.” According to the article, the Administration is in the process of drafting guidelines to determine how the new intelligence directorate in the Department of Homeland Security (“the Department”) will access intelligence collected by other Federal agencies.
Among other things, The Post reported that:
(1) for now, the intelligence agencies have persuaded the White House that information provided to the Department should be in the form of summary reports which generally will not include raw intelligence;
(2) according to “administration officials,” the new department will receive undigested intelligence only when Governor Ridge makes the case for it under yet undefined procedures; and
(3) a number of officials at the FBI, CIA, and NSA have “deep misgivings” about distributing raw intelligence too widely, especially to a new and untested department. If these and other aspects of The Post’s story are accurate, then I am very troubled about the direction the Administration appears to be taking with respect to this critical issue – a direction that I believe may conflict with the letter and spirit of the new Homeland Security law.
It appears that, in order to protect their own turf, some key agencies may already be working against the spirit of the legislation. If so, I call on you to intervene immediately and clarify to the intelligence community and the nation that the new Department will play the central role in fusing and analysing intelligence that Congress intended it to play. It is time to nip these damaging bureaucratic turf battles in the bud and ensure from the start that the Department has broad access to the information it needs to protect the American people.
As you know, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which I chaired in the 107th Congress, conducted numerous hearings on the proposed Department of Homeland Security, including its intelligence needs and relationship to the intelligence community. The Committee subsequently approved and submitted legislation to the full Senate which forms the basis of the final bill which you signed into law. The legislative history makes it clear that, to protect our homeland effectively, the intelligence division of the new the Department must provide the kind of all-sources intelligence analysis that we now know was missing in our government prior to September 11 and remains missing today.
The new Department must close the unacceptable gap in our defenses by serving as the central focal point for the analysis of intelligence related to terrorist threats against our homeland. And it must have the capacity to focus on the full range of threats to our country posed by terrorists. The vision I outline is consistent with the legislation you signed, which establishes a Directorate of “information analysis and infrastructure protection” that will be headed by a Presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed Undersecretary.
The responsibilities of the Undersecretary include “to disseminate, as appropriate, information analyzed by the Department within the Department, to other agencies of the Federal Government with responsibilities relating to homeland security, and to agencies of State and local governments and private sector entities with such responsibilities in order to assist in the deterrence, prevention, preemption of, or response to, terrorist attacks against the United States.”
To fulfill this objective, the legislation provides the Secretary authority to routinely access information collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other agencies in our government. The assumption behind the legislation is that unless you or future Presidents determine otherwise, all information about terrorist threats that the Secretary considers necessary, including so-called “unevaluated intelligence” (sometimes called “raw intelligence) possessed by intelligence agencies, would be routinely shared with the Department of Homeland Security. The precise language states that, “except as otherwise directed by the President, the Secretary shall have such access as the Secretary considers necessary to all information, including reports, assessments, analyses, and unevaluated intelligence (italics added) relating to threats of terrorism against the United States and to other areas of responsibility assigned by the Secretary, and to all information concerning infrastructure or other vulnerabilities of the United States to terrorism, whether or not such information has been analyzed (italics added), that may be collected, possessed, or prepared by any agency of the Federal Government.”
The aforementioned story in The Washington Post raises concerns that the Administration’s approach may not be consistent with the legislation. For example, if the only information provided to the Department of Homeland Security is in the form of “summary reports,” this would unnecessarily limit access to vital, underlying information that the Department needs to protect the American people. Of course, much depends on the specific content of these “summary reports.” But the legislation lists “reports, assessments, analyses, and unevaluated intelligence” specifically in order to signal that the Secretary should have broad access to information about terrorist threats possessed by the intelligence community and other agencies. “Summary reports” from the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies may not be sufficient to meet this requirement. Comments attributed to Administration officials that the new Department would receive “undigested intelligence” only when the Secretary “makes the case” also misinterpret the law. The bill’s language states clearly that except as otherwise directed by the President (italics added) such information – referred to in the legislation as “unevaluated intelligence”- should be shared. Of course, the President can ultimately determine if the Secretary should not have access to certain highly sensitive information. However, as a matter of course, the Secretary should not be required to “make the case” before undigested intelligence is shared. To the contrary, agencies that do not wish to share such information, for whatever reason, should be required to make the case as to why they should not share that information. The Post also reported that a number of officials at the FBI, CIA, and NSA have “deep misgivings” about distributing raw intelligence to a new and untested department. But this concern too is explicitly addressed in the legislation, which provides that many of the analysts within the Department will be drawn from the ranks of existing intelligence agencies and that all must have the necessary and appropriate security clearances. The legislation also makes the Department responsible for working with the Director of Central Intelligence to protect sources and methods and with the Attorney General to protect sensitive law enforcement information.
While these “misgivings” may be understandable for those who want to preserve the status quo, they must be overcome if we are to correct the systematic intelligence breakdowns that plagued and still plague our government. There should be no “misgivings” about sharing intelligence with analysts who are themselves from the very agencies producing the intelligence, and who have the clearances necessary to handle the information.
Finally, the legislation includes the elements of the Department concerned with analysis of foreign intelligence in the intelligence community while empowering the Secretary to consult with the Director of Central Intelligence and other agencies on our nation’s intelligence gathering priorities. These provisions should ensure that the Department will become a full partner with the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies in our intelligence community, and that it has a crucial seat at the table in all proceedings where intelligence-gathering priorities are established. It goes without saying that to protect our country, all Federal agencies must be held accountable for working cooperatively, and in close partnership, with the new Department.
Given the well-documented problems with the refusal of agencies in the Federal government to share intelligence about terrorists with each other- and the catastrophic consequences for our nation – it is vital that the Administration establishes a robust intelligence analysis capability in the Department and does everything necessary to overcome bureaucratic resistance to information sharing within the intelligence community. Now is not the time to cater to outdated notions of protecting the turf of the CIA, FBI, or any other agency by implementing the new law in a way which validates precisely the behavior that was the major failure of our government prior to September 11, 2001.
Now is the time to boldly and fully implement this legislation and improve our government’s capacity to prevent terrorist attacks on our homeland. As the Administration moves forward to establish the Department of Homeland Security, and specifically the directorate of information analysis and infrastructure protection, I strongly urge you to exercise the executive leadership necessary to ensure that the Department includes the kind of robust information analysis and infrastructure protection directorate our nation desperately needs.
There is no more important aspect of the new Department of Homeland Security, and, considering the continuing reluctance of some agencies to overcome their past, no area where clear and decisive Presidential leadership is needed more.
Joseph I. Lieberman