White House considers review of spy programs


WASHINGTON, Reuters

The White House is considering a top-to-bottom review of U.S. spy programs to determine problem areas and where changes should be made, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

CIA Director George Tenet several weeks ago proposed to President George W. Bush that a review be conducted across the entire intelligence community, which includes the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.

Bush has not yet signed off on it, but was expected to make a decision in the near-term, officials said.

“The intelligence community is interested in determining what their collection capability needs are going to be for the 21st century,” an administration official told Reuters.

“If and how the intelligence community will be tasked to undertake a review of its capabilities and future requirements is currently under review,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The review would encompass everything including budgets, intelligence policy, intelligence gathering capabilities, structure, organization, and where spies are deployed.

Congressional committees that have oversight over U.S. intelligence programs also have been pushing for such a review to make sure funding was being spent wisely.

The U.S. intelligence budget is classified, but experts have said it was probably about US$30 billion for the current year, and was expected to be higher for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

“There is a strong feeling that the intelligence community has been underinvested for quite some time and that in order to properly assess the best way to invest, a full review of the structure, capabilities and needs of the community should be entertained,” a congressional source told Reuters.

The National Security Agency, which conducts eavesdropping operations through spy satellites and listening posts around the world, has been criticized for not being in tune with the latest technological advances.

The CIA now finds it needs to keep tabs on a growing number of areas around the world compared with its previous main focus on the Soviet Union before it collapsed.

Congress has also been pushing U.S. intelligence agencies to improve turning the vast amount of information they gather into a form that is more useful for policymakers.

At an unrelated Senate hearing on Tuesday on domestic terrorism, Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “Our collection efforts are quite good, but the analysis leaves a great deal to be desired.”

Another U.S. official, on condition of anonymity, said the proposed intelligence review would come at a helpful time. “What better time than the start of a new administration to see how the community should be organized, structured and see if it can be improved upon,” the official said.