Sabotaging intelligence reform

Members of both parties, Bush, the 9-11 Commission and the public support the bill.

One might think a bill recommended by the 9-11 Commission, supported by a majority of voters and endorsed by a president flush with electoral victory would gain easy passage in Congress. Think again.

Last week, legislation reorganizing the nation’s intelligence agencies died in the House, leaving many to wonder just what it takes to make a law these days. The measure would have created a director of national intelligence with full budgetary and personnel authority. Political observers have warned for months that the bill would likely arouse intense opposition from agencies that stand to lose the most from reorganization. Topping that list is the Defense Department, which controls approximately 80 percent of the $40 billion annual intelligence budget.

It isn’t surprising, then, that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld voiced his opposition to the bill early. Rumsfeld claims not to have opposed the legislation after a concrete proposal got the support of President George W. Bush, but that defense is hard to reconcile with recent comments by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who called Rumsfeld’s opposition “blatant.”

There are legitimate concerns that the bill might make battlefield intelligence less available to tactical commanders. But those concerns could be addressed in conference negotiations to blend the House and Senate versions of the bill together.

Instead, intelligence reform was sabotaged by crass backdoor maneuvers. Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., added an unrelated provision to the bill that would make it easier to deport illegal immigrants. This was a thinly veiled attempt at turning an otherwise popular bill into a controversial one. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, voiced his opposition to the bill at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. Neither responded to Bush’s entreaties.

Fault also lies with House Speaker Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who refused to bring the bill to a vote over the objections of Hunter, Sensenbrenner and other obstinate House Republicans.

Hastert should reconsider his decision and give sensible Republicans and Democrats a chance to pass serious intelligence reform.