The Intelligence Wars

In a move that seems to have flown under the radar, President Bush issued an Executive Order on Friday, February 29, that transformed the Clinton-era President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board into the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. The White House maintained that the board maintains its independence under the new order, but as a general rule, it’s a safe bet to be skeptical of Executive Orders issued on a Friday.

Most of the changes made to the board’s function remove the teeth from the board’s oversight capacity, thereby consolidating the White House’s control over intelligence oversight. One example is this clause, found in the Executive Order establishing the PFIAB, which was removed from the PIAB’s job description:

The heads of departments and agencies of the Federal Government, to the extent permitted by law, shall provide the PFIAB with access to all information that the PFIAB deems necessary to carry out it s responsibilities.

Another example is the Intelligence Oversight Board, formerly a standing committee of PFIAB members chosen by the chairman of the PFIAB, but now chosen by the President. Finally, while the new order ostensibly gives the IOB oversight authority over the Director of National Intelligence, and charges it to report all criminal activity it uncovers directly to the President, it is now the DNI who is charged with referring files to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

In other words, if the IOB was a watchdog, it just got de-fanged and had its leash shortened. It’s hard not to see this as the latest battle in the intelligence wars which, as much as any of its other wars, will certainly figure prominently in history’s judgment of this administration.