Defense Officials Caution on All-Powerful Intel Chief

Defense Department (searchofficials cautioned Wednesday against empowering a new national intelligence director with too much authority, telling a House military panel that centralized control could promote a harmful "group-think" mentality of intelligence analysis.

At a separate House intelligence hearing, the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission (search) encountered similar skepticism from some House members who urged careful study before creating a White House post they believe could become too politicized.

If the new national intelligence director the commission wants to create is tied too closely to the White House, "politics takes over," said Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif.

"If the White House scrubs everything that goes through that office, my fear is it is going to be gridlocked, micromanaged and it's going to limit action," he said.

The hearings were among several planned this month featuring testimony from Pentagon and intelligence officials on recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission to reform the intelligence community.

"The best way to avoid group-think is to have people in various locations looking at the various aspects," said Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (search).

"There's a greater chance of having alternate analysis interaction then if we put people physically together in an environment over time, who might build up a set of assumptions that is rarely challenged."

Stephen Cambone, the Pentagon's undersecretary for intelligence, said creating a new director also would require a reworking of the "relationship between the Department of Defense and supplier of information in a way a commander on the front line can be assured when he picks up the phone, he can get it."

"We'll have to reset those relationships to ensure that outcome. So far the best way has been the current arrangement," he said.

The defense officials' testimony Wednesday echoed concerns raised by some skeptical House members, including Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the Armed Services panel.

"Over the last decade, the military has grown more dependent on improved national intelligence systems for precise maneuvers and application of firepower," he said. "Transferring DOD national intelligence capabilities to an outside entity could end up dulling our military edge -- which would ultimately make us less secure."

Members of both parties returned from their August recess to attend the hearings this week after the Sept. 11 commission released a scathing 567-page report in late July citing multiple intelligence failures. House leaders say they want legislation ready in September, Senate leaders by Oct. 1.

Sept. 11 commission chairman Thomas Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton told the House intelligence committee that speedy reform was needed, even if their recommendations aren't adopted wholesale.

"If our recommendations aren't the right way to go, then let's do something different. But let's do something," Kean said.

Hamilton acknowledged there is "no neat solution" to concerns about politicization, but said much would depend on who is selected as intelligence chief.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has endorsed the commission's proposals. President Bush supports creating a national intelligence director, though not with the full budgetary powers the commission had recommended.

On Tuesday, Bush announced his nomination of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., as CIA director.

California Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on the intelligence panel, said she strongly favors adopting the commission's recommendations. "Oddly, some still warn that implementation would be a rush to judgment," Harman said.