The 600-page Intelligence-Reform Bill that congress passed last week is the most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. spy community since World War II. President Bush, who plans to sign the bill soon, was at first lukewarm about it, and conservative House Republicans almost derailed it. But congressional holdouts bowed to pressure from the Sept. 11 victims’ families, who demanded the system be fixed. How will it work? Here are answers to five crucial questions.
Who will be the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that the bill establishes? CIA Director Porter Goss was the obvious choice. But the former Florida Congressman’s first 2 1/2 months of righting the troubled agency have been bumpy, with five senior CIA officials quitting. Goss isn’t out of the running, but because he would face a confirmation battle from Democrats worried that he’s too political, the White House is considering others, such as 9/11 commission chairman Thomas Kean, former Senator Sam Nunn and ex — Navy Secretary John Lehman.
How powerful will the director be? Republican Senator Susan Collins describes the DNI as the “quarterback,” controlling most of the $40 billion spent annually on intelligence, setting priorities among the 15 spy agencies and forcing them to share secrets. So that the director would remain neutral and not become bogged down in operational details, Congress didn’t give the DNI control over spying at the CIA and other agencies. But without operational control, the director may be less useful to the President and therefore have less access to him. It will take a close friend of Bush’s or someone “very aggressive” in the post to overcome that, warns Winston Wiley, a former CIA official.
Will the bill stop terrorists at the border? It requires 10,000 more border-patrol guards and 4,000 more immigration and customs agents over five years. It also orders improvements in air-cargo and cruise-ship security. But the measures are “meaningless without the dollars to back them up,” says Democratic Representative David Obey. So far, Congress has been stingy about paying for them.
Will the bill deter terrorists like the 9/11 hijackers, who obtained 34 driver’s licenses and identity cards here, often with phony residence claims? It calls for quickly developing biometric machines at entry points to verify identities of foreigners on the basis of their physical features. It also sets new federal standards for issuing driver’s licenses. But critics complain that the moves aren’t strong enough, and House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner tried to block the bill because, among other things, it didn’t deny driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
What’s missing? The biggest missing piece is reform of congressional oversight, which is a mess. Any initiative a DNI undertakes can be undone by six committees or subcommittees. Don’t expect lawmakers to give up their turf.