The Senate begins this week its consideration of a far-reaching proposal to reform the nation's Intelligence Community along the lines suggested by the 9/11 Commission. The House is considering parallel legislation. A clear mandate for enhancing information sharing must be in the final bill that is sent to the President.
While the various proposals differ in many ways (and raise many questions), they uniformly agree that a National Intelligence Director (NID) should be created. They all rightly call for making the NID the principal intelligence advisor to the President, with responsibility for oversight of the Intelligence Community, an assemblage of 15 federal intelligence agencies and departments. The final bill should give the NID authority to set policies across the community, review budget allocations and senior personnel appointments, and set priorities to direct efforts to national intelligence needs.
Additionally, the legislation should give the NID the responsibility and authority to establish key capabilities that will allow the Intelligence Community to operate more efficiently and effectively. In particular, the NID should have the mission of establishing an overarching information technology architecture and specific policies to ensure effective sharing of information at all levels in the intelligence community. This is consistent with the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.
The Senate Bill (S.2774) incorporates an information-sharing provision (section 206). That is a step in the right direction. The legislation, however, mandates a specific information network, which is not a good idea. The NID should not be hamstrung with a legislative solution but should be allowed to fashion the best program to obtain the best results from government information systems . The law, however, should require specific safeguards to protect privacy and civil liberties:
Strong privacy protection mechanisms, such as immutable audits; encryption; and automated, continuous screening for abuse and misuse; and
External oversight of the information-sharing process to protect civil liberties, by review and/or policy guidance from a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board; an Advisory Board for Information Sharing; a new Inspector General; and the Comptroller General.
We have many concerns with proposed intelligence reforms (see, for example, Avoiding a Rush to Failure by Edwin Meese, III, and James Jay Carafano), but enhanced information sharing is not one of them. It would be absurd to create a NID to coordinate intelligence activities but to deny the NID the essential tools to accomplish that mission. A revised section 206 of the Senate Bill would provide the right mandate for accomplishing this critical task.
Paul Rosenzweig is Senior Legal Research Fellow in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.