New Law May Cause Intel Official Conflicts

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The new law intended to make the nation's intelligence agencies work together may create a conflict between the national intelligence director (search) and his subordinate, who reports directly to the president on some matters, congressional researchers say.

The potential problem, according to the bipartisan Congressional Research Service, is that the National Counterterrorism Center (search) director reports to the president on non-intelligence joint counterterrorism operations but is a subordinate of the national intelligence director — who is ultimately responsible for coordinating the nation's intelligence agencies and is the president's adviser on anti-terrorism operations.

While those positions are still vacant — the Senate has yet to confirm John Negroponte (search), Bush's nominee for national intelligence director, and the White House has not said whether it will ask acting NCTC director John Brennan to stay on — Congress should consider whether that setup in last year's intelligence reorganization law causes a conflict, the CRS report said.

"Does the direct reporting role of the NCTC director to the president for intelligence operations relating to counterterrorism matters potentially undermine the authority of the DNI?" the report released last week said.

Congress does not have to act, the researchers said. "Professionalism, and a high degree of commitment among the counterterrorism cadre assigned to the NCTC, may go a long way toward ameliorating these ambiguities and thus negate the need for legislative action," the report said.

But taking care of those problems early would allow the intelligence director and the counterterrorism center director start their jobs with fewer questions to answer, CRS researchers said.

"The ambiguities outlined in the act may only complicate the inevitable growing pains associated with establishing an effective, nationally coordinated counterterrorism intelligence effort," they said.