Top Pentagon officials are urging Congress to ensure that creation of a national intelligence director will not jeopardize military commanders' access to timely information.
For the second day in a row, U.S. military officials Wednesday warned the House Armed Services Committee against establishing a national intelligence director with too much authority. They argue that centralized control of intelligence could delay crucial information from quickly getting to a battlefield.
General Raymond Odierno was commander of an infantry division deployed in Iraq from March of last year to March of this year. "The one thing we learned in Iraq was you do not have much time," he said. "Targets are fleeting. You have hours, and so you have to have immediate access to information."
Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone, said establishing a new national intelligence director would require reworking the relationship between the Pentagon and those who supply intelligence in a way that "the commander on the front line can be assured that when he picks up the phone," he can get that information.
"In finding another way to manage, it is that kind of interconnection that we worked so hard to build up over 20 years now, and especially in the last three, that we realize we are pulling apart, and will need to put back in a way that is going to be appropriate and effective," he said.
The comments echoed testimony from other Defense Department officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, when they appeared before the House panel Tuesday.
Creation of a national intelligence director is one of a number of recommendations made by the commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Commission leaders told the House panel Tuesday the proposed intelligence director would work to promote greater cooperation among intelligence agencies, not interfere with military operations. They are proposing that a top Defense Department official serve as deputy to the intelligence director to oversee the Pentagon's intelligence needs.
But some Republican lawmakers share the Pentagon officials' concerns. "If we, with all good intentions make a mistake that ends up accruing to the detriment of a guy who is on the field, and he does not get that information quite as fast or quite as effectively, than we would not have served the nation well," said Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Democrats, meanwhile, want the commission's proposals to be adopted quickly, and accuse Republicans of foot-dragging.
Congresswoman Jane Harman of California is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which conducted its own hearing on the commission's proposals Wednesday.
"I am concerned that some, including some on this committee, are advocating a go-slow approach," she said.
President Bush has endorsed the idea of a national intelligence director.