WASHINGTON – Draft Senate Intelligence Committee legislation would create a national intelligence director (search) with authority over spending, hiring and firing, powers the White House has not explicitly endorsed but three former spymasters said Monday would be crucial to coordinating multiple agencies.
"The intelligence community does not need a feckless czar, with fine surroundings and little authority," said William Webster, who has headed both the CIA and the FBI.
The power of the purse will help the new director make the nation's 15 intelligence agencies cooperate, as well as listen to what he or she has to say, ex-CIA Director James Woolsey told the Governmental Affairs and Intelligence committees. "Whoever has the gold makes the rules," he said.
Webster, Woolsey and Stansfield Turner were reacting to the Sept. 11 commission's (search) suggestion that Congress create an intelligence director of near-Cabinet rank to coordinate all the intelligence agencies. Turner led the CIA 1977-81, Webster 1987-91 and Woolsey 1993-95.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said his committee will forward a draft bill by Wednesday to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which will write the final legislation crafting the national intelligence director, which lawmakers are calling NID.
Roberts said he expects his committee's draft bill to be close to the Sept. 11 commission's suggestion of a powerful director. Congressional aides said the draft has a National Counterterrorism Center and a national intelligence director with the power to hire and fire intelligence community personnel, as well as set budgets for the community's 15 component agencies.
"Control of the money, after all, is tantamount to power," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.
The draft bill also would create general counsel and inspector general offices to oversee the entire intelligence community and a chief information officer to standardize communications among the agencies, the aides said.
Changes could still be made to the draft bill, aides said.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has endorsed the commission's proposals for a powerful national intelligence director. President Bush also supports creating the new position but has not endorsed the commission's call to let the director control all intelligence budgets and choose who leads the CIA (search), FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency (search) and other intelligence agencies.
Turner told the senators, "The worst thing that can come of this is we create an NID and not give him authority."
Lieberman also said White House officials seem to be softening their opposition to a powerful director.
"Last week, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice appeared to have left the door open on the question of budget authority for the NID, which is an encouraging sign, and I hope her comments indicate the White House is reconsidering," he said.
But two former secretaries of defense said the new director shouldn't control the Defense Department's intelligence services, highlighting the turf problems lawmakers will encounter.
"I don't think that the authorities in the Department of Defense should be placed under the NID," former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Pentagon controls most of the large intelligence agencies: the National Security Agency (search), which intercepts electronic communications; the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates spy satellites; and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (search), which analyzes satellite pictures.
The Defense Department also controls 80 percent of the money spent on intelligence, estimated at roughly $40 billion annually. Much of the information is used mainly by the military, as it tracks foreign arsenals and weapons development.