Statement of Senator Susan Collins on the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004

Mr. President, today the Senate begins an important debate on the National Intelligence Reform Act. This legislation, which I have introduced with my good friend Senator Lieberman, represents the most sweeping reform of our intelligence agencies in more than 50 years.
It reorganizes an intelligence community designed for the Cold War into one designed for the war against global terrorism and future national security threats. It recognizes that the fundamental obligation of government is to protect its citizens and that those protections must evolve along with the threats. It reorders the priorities of an intelligence structure that was devised for a different enemy and a different time.
On July 22nd, the 9/11 Commission released its final report on terrorist attacks against the United States. On that same day, our leaders, Senator Frist and Senator Daschle, assigned the Governmental Affairs Committee the task of developing legislation addressing the Commission’s recommendations to restructure intelligence agencies within the Executive Branch.
Our Committee performed that task with dedication and diligence and with the active participation of its talented members. From late July until mid-September, we held eight in-depth hearings to assess the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. We heard testimony from more than two-dozen witnesses, including Secretary of State Powell, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge, FBI Director Mueller, CIA Director McLaughlin, the 9/11 Commission Chairmen Kean and Hamilton, Commissioners Fielding and Gorelick, intelligence experts, field operatives, professors, and representatives of the 9/11 families. As a result of this unprecedented effort and wide-ranging input, the Committee has produced legislation that is comprehensive, bipartisan – in fact, unanimous – and historic.
This legislation is not, however, merely the product of two months’ work by our Committee. It is based upon the work of the 9/11 Commission, an inquiry that spanned 20 months, with 19 days of hearings and 160 witnesses, the review of 2.5 million documents, and interviews of more than 1,200 individuals in 10 countries. The new intelligence structure we propose is built upon a rock-solid foundation of inquiry and information.
In crafting a structure designed for today and for the future, the Committee built on the strengths of our current system, recognized the progress that has been made since 9/11, and charted a new course to strengthen our intelligence community. We understood that the 15 agencies that comprise the intelligence community provide a range of unique experience, expertise and viewpoints that must be preserved. We realized that the barriers to information sharing, cooperation, and coordination – what the Commission calls “stovepipes” – must be demolished. We set as our goal an intelligence structure with the agility the times and the threats demand, not another layer of bureaucracy. And, we were determined that this new structure not infringe upon the freedoms Americans cherish.
This legislation uses the Commission recommendations as our guide, and these principles as our compass. It begins with the creation of the position of National Intelligence Director.
The NID will be the head of our intelligence community and the President’s chief intelligence advisor. As the head of the new National Intelligence Authority, this presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed official will be truly in charge of our intelligence community. No longer will there be confusion and doubt about who is in charge and accountable. The answer will be the National Intelligence Director.
The Director will have broad authority to unify and strengthen our intelligence community’s efforts and to eliminate barriers that impede coordination of intelligence activities. He will set standards for information sharing and classification across the intelligence community and develop an integrated communications network. His responsibility will be to turn the stovepipes that separate our intelligence community into conduits that promote cooperation. Along with this responsibility will come strong authority to direct budgetary and personnel resources where they are most needed.
To illustrate why these authorities are crucial, consider this passage from the 9/11 Commission report. In late 1998, it had become increasingly apparent that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda posed a direct, immediate, and deadly threat to the United States. On December 4th of that year, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet issued this memorandum:
(Chart 1)
“We are at war. I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside the CIA or the Community.”
What was the result of this clear, concise, direct order from the head of our intelligence community?
(Chart 2)
According to the Commission:
“The memorandum had little overall effect on mobilizing the CIA or the intelligence community.”
Why did it have little overall effect? The expert witnesses before our Committee, and before the Commission, provided the answer: Under the current structure, the DCI is responsible for managing the intelligence community, but does not have real authority to do so. No organization can succeed with a disconnect between responsibility and authority.
At our Committee hearing on September 13th, I asked Secretaries Powell and Ridge what I consider to be the bottom-line question: “Do you believe that a strong National Intelligence Director with enhanced power to set collection priorities, to task the collection of intelligence, will improve the quality of intelligence that you both need in your capacity as policy makers?”
Each answered with an enthusiastic and unambiguous “yes.” As Secretary Powell put it, our intelligence team needs, and I quote, “a stronger, empowered quarterback.” The Collins-Lieberman bill would provide that quarterback.
Perhaps the most important power we provide to the National Intelligence Director is the power of the purse. In order to foster cooperation throughout the intelligence community, the National Intelligence Director will have control over the budget for national intelligence. Currently, that funding is largely funneled through the Department of Defense, and the Director of the CIA has very limited authority over the overall resources of the intelligence community.
Under the Collins-Lieberman bill, the NID, in consultation with agency and department heads, will develop and recommend the intelligence budget to the President. After congressional action, it will be the NID who receives the appropriation for what will be known as the National Intelligence Program (NIP). The NID will also have significant authority to reprogram and transfer funds so that he can marshal the resources needed to counter a threat.
After careful consideration, the Committee decided to declassify only the aggregate figure for the National Intelligence Program. The Collins-Lieberman bill does not require the declassification of the budget totals for the various agencies that make up the NIP. Our witnesses generally urged great caution in going that far; instead, we require the NID to report to Congress on whether or not further declassification of budget totals is appropriate.
The NID will allocate the budget to the various intelligence agencies in accordance with the appropriations determined by the Congress. That includes agencies – the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and parts of the Defense Intelligence Agency — that serve national intelligence consumers but are located in the Department of Defense. In recognition of the dual role played by these agencies, which provide critical intelligence not only to the DoD but also to the CIA and other consumers, our bill keeps them within the Department but strengthens the NID’s authority over them.
It is important to emphasize, however, that nothing in the NID’s authority will hinder military operations or readiness. Tactical and joint military intelligence programs will remain under the control of the Pentagon and outside of the National Intelligence Program – as they are today. The Collins-Lieberman bill will not affect the tactical intelligence assets of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. This bill will not impede the flow of real-time, actionable intelligence that our warfighters require. In fact, by strengthening the collection and analysis of intelligence, our legislation should improve the quality of information provided to Pentagon officials and combatant commanders.
The members of the intelligence community collect a vast amount of information. As the Commission found, we have a weak system for processing this information and transmitting it where it is needed. As the 9/11 report reveals, this weakness has been evident during many terrorist attacks over many years It took an attack that claimed 3,000 innocent lives for this weakness to be fully exposed, and now it cannot be ignored.
Our legislation contains strong provisions that make information sharing the rule, not the exception, and requires an integrated communications network to be developed, a serious deficiency in our current system that Senator Durbin highlighted in our hearings. We simply can no longer tolerate a system where the pieces of the puzzle are not assembled, where the CIA and the FBI each have vital, urgent, compelling intelligence, but no one puts together the picture.
The second major Commission recommendation included in our bill is the establishment of a National Counterterrorism Center, expanding the community-wide intelligence analysis capabilities of the Terrorism Threat Integration Center established by the President last year.
A major benefit of the NCTC is that much of its staff will be drawn from the various intelligence agencies now scattered throughout the government. These intelligence experts will work side-by-side, sharing and analyzing information, gaining an understanding of other agencies’ missions, and creating a culture of cooperation.
A significant responsibility of the NCTC will be joint planning. The Center will have the authority to develop plans that include a mission, objectives to be achieved, courses of action, and recommendations for operational plans. Moreover, the NCTC Director will assign responsibilities for counterterrorism operations to agencies as set forth in the plans.
As an example of this might work, the NCTC would have the authority to create an interagency plan to dismantle a particular al Qaeda cell, and to assign specific tasks to the appropriate agencies. To be clear, however, the NCTC would not have the authority to tell any agency how it must execute that task, nor will it be in the military chain of command. And, should an agency object to an NCTC assignment, the NID could either accede to the objection or appeal to the President.
The legislation also includes provisions recommended by the Commission and authored by Senator Voinovich that would streamline and standardize the system for security clearances, a system that is now inconsistent, slow, and backlogged. An important provision requires the President to designate a single agency to handle security clearances for government employees and contractors.
The final chapter of the 9/11 report, the chapter that outlines the recommendations we seek to implement, begins with this statement:
“Some of the saddest aspects of the 9/11 story are the outstanding efforts of so many individual officials straining, often without success, against the boundaries of the possible. Good people can overcome bad structure. They should not have to.”
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As this chart shows, we are not adding a layer of bureaucracy, nor are we breaking up individual agencies. We are creating a new structure for cooperation, accountability, and results.
Our legislation gives the good people in our intelligence community the structure they deserve. It also takes steps, recommended by Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to ensure that we will always have good people. Our scholarship program will encourage bright young Americans to join the intelligence community, and it will enable veteran intelligence officers to enhance their skills. Intelligence reform requires this investment in our human capital. We also create a “reserve corps” of retired intelligence officers who can be called upon when their special skills and judgment are needed.
Our bill creates a civil liberties board, as recommended by the Commission and strengthened by amendments offered by Senator Durbin. Nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the members of this board will advise agencies of the civil-liberties ramifications of policies before they are adopted, and will conduct oversight of the implementation of polices. In addition, our legislation will create both a civil liberties and privacy officer as part of the new National Intelligence Authority.
The fundamental obligation of any government is to protect the lives of its citizens. The American government has an additional obligation to protect the freedom of its citizens. Our legislation does not ask the American people to choose between security and liberty because we do not believe such a choice is necessary.
To help ensure a smooth transition from the current structure to the new, the bill provides a six-month phase-in that gives the President considerable discretion to implement these changes. We will not let our guard down at any point in this process.
We also recognize that reforms of this magnitude deserve careful congressional oversight and review. The bill includes a provision recommended by former Senator Warren Rudman that requires a report to Congress on implementation of these reforms after one-year. As a result of an amendment offered by Senator Pryor, it also includes a useful requirement for a Government Accountability Office study and report to Congress.
As I have indicated, this legislation is the product of a concentrated effort by the Governmental Affairs Committee, reflects recommendations of other Committees, and builds upon the work of the 9/11 Commission. It is important to note, however, that the Commission did not start from scratch, either: its work takes into account nearly a half-century of studies on intelligence reform dating back to the Eisenhower Administration.
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As you can see, the titles of these studies read like a “Who’s Who” of 20th Century military, intelligence, and diplomatic expertise: Hoover, Doolittle, Schlesinger, Rockefeller, Scowcroft, to name but a few. The studies were conducted under a variety of conditions and threats, but a central theme emerges: America’s intelligence system is hindered by a fragmented structure and compartmentalized thinking. Our past failure to act on these studies, and on the legislation that resulted, is why we are here today.
For example, the Boren-McCurdy legislation of 1992 recognized the emerging threats of the post-Cold War era: terrorism and weapons proliferation. Using the successful restructurings of the military since World War II as models – the National Security Act of 1947 and the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 — this legislation called for the creation of a National Director of Intelligence with the strong authorities similar to what we propose today.
The Borden-McCurdy Act was not adopted. At the same time these reforms were being set aside for another day, one component of our intelligence community had identified Osama bin Laden as the mastermind behind a foiled plot to bomb American troops in Aden. Another noted bin Laden’s close ties to the known terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman, revealed later as the architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Yet another considered bin Laden to be nothing more than an “extremist financier.” Information that could have led to effective action against bin Laden a decade ago was there, but it was not shared.
In 1996, the Aspin-Brown Commission reached the same post-Cold War conclusion and made similar reform recommendations. The result was a similar failure by Congress to take action. Meanwhile, our intelligence community was starting to agree that bin Laden had started something called al Qaeda, and that it was some kind of terrorist army. As the 9/11 Commission notes, however, every relevant member of the intelligence community had a different plan for dealing with al Qaeda, from cruise missiles to diplomacy with the Taliban. While these conflicting plans were butting heads, two American embassies in Africa were bombed. The attack on the USS Cole was approved. What became known as the “Planes Operation” was taking shape.
The need for reform was made clear by the Commission’s exhaustive study of the intelligence failures that preceded the murder of 3,000 innocent people on September 11th, 2001. In late July of this year, as the Governmental Affairs Committee’s work began, Washington, New York City and Northern New Jersey were placed under elevated terrorist alert, an alert that is still evident today at intersections throughout this city. Our Committee work neared its conclusion as terrorists murdered again at a schoolhouse in Beslan, Russia.
These terrible events, combined with the slaughter we have seen in Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, Jerusalem, Jakarta, and so many other places, leave no doubt that the enemy we face has both a global reach and an unlimited capacity for cruelty. Our response must be as far-reaching, and it must unleash America’s capacity to meet any challenge. This legislation is an essential part of that response.
The calls for reform go back 50 years. For nearly two years, the 9/11 Commission conducted an investigation of unprecedented depth. Our Committee produced comprehensive legislation with unanimous support. Hardly a day passes in which we do not see new evidence of terrorism’s depravity.
And yet, there are those who say we should wait. We need more information. Under the current threat of terrorism, the time is not right. The charged atmosphere of election season is not the right environment for such important decisions.
I ask, what additional information do we need? Look over the list of witnesses who appeared before the Commission and my Committee. What point-of-view was not heard? What area of expertise was not explored? What more compelling evidence do we need?
I ask, if the time is not right, when will the right time come? When will there be no threats? And I ask, what could be more cynical than our failure to act on something of such importance to the citizens of this country?
At our very first Committee hearing, on July 30th, Commission Chairman Thomas Kean spoke on the need to move forward with these reforms. This is what he said: “These people are planning to attack us again and trying to attack us sooner, rather than later. Every delay we have in changing structures or changing people or whatever it is, to make that less likely is a delay the American people can’t tolerate.”
Yes, we can wait. We can wait until the day when we know everything we could possibly know, when there are no more threats, and when the American people do not expect their leaders to lead. We can wait until the day another attack leaves us all wondering once again why we didn’t see it coming.
That first day will never come. If we do not act, the second surely will.