Getting Intel Reform Passed

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Dec. 3, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: The White House had hoped to send a letter from the president to Congress today; telling them the president wants the intelligence reform bill passed now. But officials were still trying behind the scenes to work out a compromise on this historic reorganization of the intelligence community.

We talked earlier with former CIA (search) and congressional official Ron Marks.


ANGLE: Now we’ve been stuck in a standoff between the House and the Senate here for many weeks. There doesn’t seem to be much give on either side. But the president is now weighing in and saying let’s get this thing done. By early next week he’s hoping; it may take a little longer than that. One of the biggest obstacles clearly is moving forward on this chain of command issue. Explain what that issue is.

RON MARKS, FMR. CIA OFFICIAL: Well, the system as it’s set up right now really allows the military to directly task three sets of agencies. And you hear NRO and NSA and NJA, and this all goes back to the imagery and the signals agencies.

ANGLE: These are satellites for the most part.

MARKS: Satellites for the most part. And what’s happened really since the first Gulf War (search) is they’ve made a real effort these agencies to bury themselves in with the military. And really down not only at the command level but the lovely level, the J2 level, etc. So they’re available to be tasked.

And I think one of the justifiable concerns that’s being asked at this point, and it probably can be patched over. But one of the concerns that’s being asked is well, wait a minute. If somebody else controls the budget here, who controls these guys?

And I think the Joint Chiefs — Joints Chief Myers, I think, brought up a legitimate question. Which is all right. Well, wait a minute. If somebody else is paying for these guys, do I really control them? My suspicion when it’s all said and done, there’s been an agreement, although there will be a statement of administration policy when the bill comes out that will calm this all down. But a good question.

ANGLE: Now, let’s make clear here what happens. Let’s say there’s a commander in the field, in Fallujah let’s say. And he calls up and says look, half a mile down the road, I believe we have got a major terrorist encampment. And I need a satellite pass to see what these guys are up to and where they’re situated, and what’s waiting for us. Under current circumstances, that would go up through the chain of command and what would happen?

MARKS: Chain of command would basically issue the orders and it would get done. But also keep in mind; they have some tactical assets as well available to them, so they would probably dual track any kind of thing like that to make sure.

ANGLE: Tactical assets?

MARKS: In terms of, like UAV’s, or other – basically drones flying around and that kind of stuff. So they’ve got that available to them. But there is a justifiable concern about what happens when they go back up the line and then ask the question.

ANGLE: Now the fear is that once you get a National Intelligence director (search), who’s overseeing the entire community, that the chain of command then adds on two or three steps at the end. How legitimate is that concern and what is the fear there?

MARKS: Well, I think it’s a justifiable concern. When you add a National Intelligence director, so-called NID at this point, you’ve added another layer of bureaucracy there whether you like it or not.

ANGLE: Two or three more phone calls?

MARKS: A couple of phone calls at the very least. And it’s a good question. I think it’s been one of the challenges of the bill all along. The reverse of this, which is one of the reasons I’ve been willing to support the bill all along, frankly, is someone really does need to keep track of this money.

A lot of money is being spent at this point, not that it’s been spent in a bad way. But in terms of trying to coordinate between essentially the national strategic stuff and the military stuff, someone does need to think about it. So in that sense it is a good idea. But the devil is in the details at this point. The ability to execute is going to be a tough thing and it needs to be looked at very carefully.

ANGLE: Now, Duncan Hunter (search) on the House side has been one — the biggest proponent on the House of making sure that the chain of command language is in there.

MARKS: Absolutely.

ANGLE: But the White House has been in total agreement with him. The White House, as I understand it, has on at least three occasions said to the House and Senate conference we want language in there that says this won’t interfere with the chain of command, to specify that in the legislation. And yet the Senate refuses to go along with it. Why? What are the reasons that the Senate won’t buy on to this, which seems to be a fairly straightforward issue?

MARKS: Well, when you get into the conference meetings between the Senate and House, it depends upon who gets included. And my understanding is the Armed Services Committee was not included in this.

In the United States Senate, when a government organization is going to be reorganized in some way, shape and form, the Government Affairs Committee steps in to take control. Which is why Senator Collins and Senator Lieberman were involved in it. And it gets referred to that committee and they tended not want to have a so-called "sequential referral." So with you’re into the negotiating part, Senator Warner for instance was not included.

ANGLE: Who would be the one most likely to...

MARKS: To bring up the same kind of issue...

ANGLE: ... from Senate Armed Services to say hey?

MARKS: Absolutely, which is why Duncan Hunter, I think, has stepped in even harder at this point to try to make the point.

ANGLE: Now, the latest thing we’ve heard is that the White House is trying to get some new compromise language. And the president is weighing in with a letter to Congress to push this process forward. At it point is it pretty much a done deal? Is it just a question of changing a phrase here and there?

MARKS: My impression at this point is they’ve come to the compromise that they’ve wanted to have. I think when you begin to see Joint Chiefs of Staff Myers getting on the air saying you know, we need to get this done. When you start to hear names, like Karl Rove (search) being thrown around, I think it’s pretty much come to a done deal.

Nobody wants to walk away and leave this on the table, and try to come back to it next year. Anything that needs to be patched over at this point could be done in some form of statement administration policy after the bill is signed. And it could be worked around.

ANGLE: Now, there is some talk of whatever problems there may, the president could fix it up and say look, here’s our understanding. Here’s the way we interpret this language. Here’s how I expect my people to work. But on the other hand, one member of Congress said to me look, this is a 40-year bill and George Bush won’t always be president. So how do we know, future administrations will interpret this and it will be as clear as he may make it sound?

MARKS: An excellent question for which there is no good answer. I think as administration goes along, different ones come in, they will interpret it in their own ways. It’s one of the reasons why I suspect on this whey we see the initial bill come through. You’re no doubt going to see some language in the intelligence bills next year, for instance, that are probably going to continue to do the patch job.

Intelligence bills over the years have been amazing in terms of the number of different patch jobs they’ve done for different organizations. So I wouldn’t be a bit surprised today see more of it.

ANGLE: Just a few seconds. Will this be the final fix? Or is this the next step of several?

MARKS: I wrote an article in the Washington Times the other day, they call this, "the first step in the journey." And it is the first step in the journey. There will be many more to come, I’m afraid.

ANGLE: Ron Marks, than you very much for joining us.

MARKS: Thank you.

ANGLE: Appreciate your help.

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