On one of the most critical national security issues facing the new administration, President-elect George Bush already is coming under pressure to overhaul the U.S. intelligence establishment.
An unusual bipartisan consensus is building for Bush to reform and adapt the CIA, his old stomping ground, to the rapidly changing world of espionage - and to a rapidly changing world.The issue, however, is no longer strong oversight of the agency. Nor is it recovering credibility after the battering the CIA took during the Iran-Contra scandal. Director William H. Webster has dealt judiciously, if slowly, with both problems, according to congressional sources.
What is at stake, according to both insiders and outside critics, is capability.
"There is increasing recognition that the capabilities that we have now will not fully enable us to meet future challenges, threats and opportunities," said Roy Godson, an intelligence specialist and Georgetown University government professor.
"In the mid-1980s, we had begun to address the apparent weaknesses. But because of Iran-Contra and the death of (former CIA Director William J.) Casey, policy-makers were distracted by the leadership shuffle and the investigations.
"In recent months, the CIA has initiated important reforms. But much remains to be done and many inside the community are good at fending off bureaucratic change."
The changes at issue involve making decisive choices between:
- More visible covert actions, ranging from paramilitary aid to misinformation campaigns, versus the overt collection and analysis of information on which the White House and State Department base foreign policy choices.
- Expensive technological advances, such as spy satellites, versus human spies.
- Trying to cover the entire world versus making selective choices.
The intelligence community long has debated what its priorities should be. But this time around, analysts say, a real crunch is approaching because of an unprecedented financial squeeze. In other words, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence outlets now must get more intelligence for less money.
Budget cutbacks mandated by the Gramm-Rudman bill to reduce the federal deficit are almost certain to crimp the CIA's style in particular, congressional intelligence specialists predict.
The cutbacks are likely to be painful. The financial squeeze comes at a time when the costs of covering technological advances and new areas in need of surveillance and analysis are rapidly multiplying.
New national security issues - most notably international terrorism, which did not even have a special section until 1981 - have become an ever more costly priority. Monitoring recent arms control pacts also will absorb vast sums.
In effect, congressional and independent analysts say, the Bush administration will have little choice but to streamline the major U.S. intelligence outlets which, besides the CIA, include its most frequent competitor, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the ultra-secret National Security Agency, the State Department's Intelligence and Research Bureau and the FBI.