In Washington last night, across the street from a Barack Obama campaign rally, the nation's intelligence and national security establishment celebrated the 60th anniversary of the National Security Act of 1947, one of the most far-reaching, consequential and controversial folios ever passed by Congress. The event was hosted by INSA, the community’s public/private think tank and featured CIA Director General Michael Hayden as the keynote speaker. Dozens of intelligence and national security veterans past and present were there.
The Act codified the National Security Council, set up the Department of Defense, merged disparate operations into the Central Intelligence Agency and provided legal recognition, for the first time, of the White House's ability to conduct covert operations (and gave the State Department a big say in their sanctioning, which would lead to much tension over the years.)
Apart from the creation of the National Security Agency in 1952, it would not be until 2004 before Congress significantly rewrote parts of the law, creating the Director of National Intelligence position and rearranging parts of the intelligence community to better reflect the challenges of a post September 11 security environment.
The presidential candidates don't much address intelligence reform and when they do, they package it within much larger proposals. Generally, both Democrats and Republicans want to double the size of the National Clandestine Service, which is fine. More case officers to recruit more agents. They propose to train more Arabic and Persian linguists. They debate the fine(r) points about waterboarding.
But a few of the intelligence folks I was lucky enough to chat with last night worry that no would-be president is thinking seriously about major questions, like:
# The tensions between the Intelligence Community and the DoD's combatant commands about military support, espionage, counterintelligence and collection.
# Huge, architectural flaws in the way the American government classifies, protects and shares sensitive information and vets its intelligence community professionals;
# The tendency among bureaucrats to believe that technological progress alone can solve any problem
# The re-rise of Russia and Russian spying;
# The extreme integration and dependence on contractors for intelligence work
# The evident and almost unprecedented level of tension between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Bush National Security Council;
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