Just As I Thought

Fools rush in

You know, there was a rush to reorganize the government after September 11, and we ended up with a Department of Homeland Security. The DHS was the result of the need to communicate between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but in the end, the CIA and FBI — which, if you remember, were the main targets of reform — are not part of the department. A total waste of time.
Now the rush to reform has again engulfed the government, and Bush is picking and choosing once more from a list the commission provided. Will it do any good at all?

Mr. Bush cast the plan he unveiled yesterday, to create a director of national intelligence and a national counterterrorism center, as embracing the commission’s recommendations. In fact the administration’s proposals differ in critical respects: Both the director and the center would have less power under his plan than in the commission’s proposal. Where the commission would invest the intelligence director with the power that really matters in Washington — control over budgets — the administration would merely give the director, as White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. explained yesterday, “an awful lot of input into the development of any budgets in the intelligence community.” The commission would grant the intelligence director power to “approve and submit nominations” of the heads of the CIA and other intelligence agencies; the Bush plan contemplates only a “concurrence” role for the intelligence chief. And while the Sept. 11 commission would give the new counterterrorism center responsibility for operational planning, the model outlined by Mr. Bush sounds like a souped-up version of the existing Terrorist Threat Integration Center, with its more analytical role.

Some will criticize the Bush plan as “commission lite”; others may see it as a less disruptive compromise. Would the effect be to add layers of bureaucracy without the muscle to force meaningful change, or would the Bush plan supply the missing coordination without threatening civil liberties, as might a more powerful intelligence czar? These are the kinds of questions that call for sustained and urgent, but not panicked, debate.

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