McCain and Obama differences on intelligence


John McCain and Barack Obama agree that the next president needs to shake up U.S. spy operations. That’s where the similarity ends.

Whoever wins Nov. 4, the next president must overhaul a $47.5 billion intelligence effort, spread through 16 agencies, that’s still struggling seven years after failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks and six years after wrongly concluding that Iraq had WMD.

The latest challenge involves revamping a 2004 law that was supposed to repair flaws exposed by 9/11 and Iraq, national security analysts say. The law established a new office led by a director of national intelligence, or DNI, to oversee the CIA and other intelligence operations. So far, the law has added a layer of bureaucracy without giving the director – currently former NSA Director Mike McConnell – enough authority over agencies’ budgets, national security analysts say.

“The DNI is still very much a work in progress, and a lot people are thinking it’s not working,” says Mark Lowenthal, former CIA assistant director for analysis and production. The next president must get it right, because U.S. spies face an array of threats besides terrorists and hostile countries like Iran and North Korea, advisers from both campaigns say.


Why HS isn’t an election issue: Voters don’t know what they want

From CQ Politics:

The presidential candidates’ deafening silence on homeland security has a logical explanation: voters have no particular policy preferences on the topic, so there’s no advantage in being specific.

“If you ask [voters] ‘are you concerned about homeland security, are you concerned about terrorism,’ they actually are,” James J. Carafano, a senior homeland security fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said Friday in a speech at George Mason University. “They’re very concerned about that. But the reason why it’s not a campaign issue is because people don’t know what they want. So whatever their candidate wants, that’s OK by them.”

“They know all they have to do is say something and then their constituents will be happy and then they’re done,” he said.

The lack of focus on homeland security should not surprise anyone.

“The point is now there hasn’t been an attack, al Qaeda’s on the run in Iraq” and there haven’t been a lot of attacks in Western Europe, Carafano said. “So Americans are still greatly concerned about terrorism, they don’t think they are going to be the victim of a terrorist attack and they just want to be reassured that somebody’s looking out for them.”

The situation, he said, is “exactly” what transpired during the Cold War.

Senators answers questions about homeland security (and other issues)

Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Christopher Reed answered a series of questions about national issues.  Many questions his on other topics, but Homeland Security-related questions include:

  • Would you vote for a defense or supplemental appropriations bill that includes a fixed timeline for withdrawal from Iraq?
  • Should the government be allowed to monitor electronic communications in the interest of homeland security without first obtaining court approval?
  • Would you support additional federal money for the construction of a border fence with Mexico?
  • Would you support a plan under which those immigrants in the United States who do not have legal status eventually could become citizens?
  • Should there be any additional federal restrictions on the purchase or possession of firearms?

For the answers and questions on other topics, read the Full article.

President Bush says he may ignore parts of Defense bill

From CQ Politics:

President Bush, in signing the defense policy bill Tuesday, issued a statement indicating he reserves the right to heed or disregard four of its provisions as he sees fit.  So-called “signing statement” typically assert the limits of Congress’s power over the executive branch.

Every president since Ronald Reagan has repeatedly engaged in the practice, but none as frequently as Bush, who has objected to more than 1,000 provisions of laws he has enacted, according to a 2007 Congressional Research Service report.

The disputed parts of the $611 billion bill include:

  • A ban on the use of U.S. funds authorized in the measure “to exercise control of the oil resources of Iraq.”
  • A requirement that the U.S. government initiate negotiations with Baghdad on an agreement to share costs of combined military operations in the Iraq war zone.
  • A provision providing certain personnel authorities to a Wartime Contracting Commission.
  • A provision that would create in the Pentagon an office called the director of Operational Energy Plans and Programs.

National Guard likely to get stronger voice in next Presidential administration

The National Guard appears likely to get a stronger voice in policy making and decision making in the next Presidential administration, regardless of which candidate takes office.

Addressing the annual conference of the National Guard Association conference on consecutive days (September 21st and 22nd, respectively), John McCain and Joe Biden both called for a greater role for the National Guard.

Senator John McCain called for “a national leadership that respects and treats our adjutant generals as partners in national homeland security policy making, rather than impediments and intruders.”

Senator Joe Biden went further, noting that 52% of the returning veterans from Iraq are guardsmen and reservists, and advocating that with the National Guard carrying such a burden, the head of the National Guard deserves a seat at the table with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate claims of questionable eavesdropping

From the New York Times:

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, said Thursday that the committee would investigate claims by two military eavesdroppers that they routinely listened in on private calls home from American military officers, aid workers and journalists stationed in Iraq.

The two former intelligence officers, Adrienne Kinne, an Army reservist, and David Murfee Faulk, a Navy linguist, spoke Thursday to ABC News. They also were interviewed for a book on the National Security Agency by James Bamford, a former ABC producer and author of two earlier books on the agency, that is scheduled for publication next week.

Mr. Faulk said that when another eavesdropper protested that they were personal calls and should not be transcribed, a supervisor replied, “My orders were to transcribe everything.”

It was unclear whether the intercepts the two former intelligence officers described were part of the program of surveillance without warrants that President Bush approved shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks. He and other officials said that program intercepted only calls of people believed to be linked to Al Qaeda.

A statement issued by the NSA on Thursday night said, “Some of these allegations have been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated; others are in the investigation process.”

The statement said the agency operated within the law and took accusations of wrongdoing seriously. “When we find misconduct, we take swift and certain remedial action,” the statement said.