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Bush Overhauls Intelligence Community

My friend Siobhan Gorman at the Wall Street Journal — who, for my money, is the best intelligence reporter in the business — breaks a big story this morning: Bush is updating the executive order governing the intelligence community org-chart to give the Director of National Intelligence clearer lines of authority.

The overhaul gives the intelligence director a greater role in hiring and firing agency heads, authority to remove barriers to intelligence sharing, and the responsibility for overseeing the acquisition of expensive programs such as new spy satellites, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It also hands the intelligence director more power to direct midlevel intelligence officers.

The revised order also gives the director the responsibility for developing policy governing relationships with foreign intelligence services, which had been handled primarily by the Central Intelligence Agency. Under the updated order, the CIA would be in charge of implementing the policy set by the intelligence director.

That’s been pretty much a bipartisan position since the late-2004 creation of the Director of National Intelligence. I’ll be interested to see if and how the order deals with defense intelligence, which is where roughly 90 percent of the $50 billion-or-so annual intel budget goes. Under a memorandum of understanding approved a few months ago, the head of intelligence in the Pentagon — an undersecretary position created by Donald Rumsfeld for his crony Steve Cambone — is also the top defense-intelligence official under the DNI. But who can fire the undersecretary of defense for intelligence? The Defense Secretary or the Director of National Intelligence? We’ll see if that’s deconflicted.

Also, at the bottom of Siobhan’s piece, there’s this frightening bit of information:

The revised order says covert action will be run by the National Security Council at the White House, carried out by the CIA and overseen by the intelligence director.

OK, this can’t mean what it appears to say on face value, can it? Because the last time covert operations were run out of the NSC, the result was Iran-Contra. After that, the intelligence community — and Congress — swore Never Again would the NSC be, as it’s known, “operationalized.” I’ve sent emails to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to see if there’s anything further to be released here.

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