Intelligence Policy to Stay Largely Intact
WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul controversial Bush administration intelligence policies, advisers say, an approach that is almost certain to create tension within the Democratic Party.
Civil-liberties groups were among those outraged that the White House sanctioned the use of harsh intelligence techniques — which some consider torture — by the Central Intelligence Agency, and expanded domestic spy powers. These groups are demanding quick action to reverse these policies.
Mr. Obama is being advised largely by a group of intelligence professionals, including some who have supported Republicans, and centrist former officials in the Clinton administration. They say he is likely to fill key intelligence posts with pragmatists.
“He’s going to take a very centrist approach to these issues,” said Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations. “Whenever an administration swings too far on the spectrum left or right, we end up getting ourselves in big trouble.”
On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama criticized many of President George W. Bush’s counterterrorism policies. He condemned Mr. Bush for promoting “excessive secrecy, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ like simulated drowning that qualify as torture through any careful measure of the law or appeal to human decency.”
As a candidate, Mr. Obama said the CIA’s interrogation program should adhere to the same rules that apply to the military, which would prohibit the use of techniques such as waterboarding. He has also said the program should be investigated.
Yet he more recently voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.
The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight.
The intelligence-transition team is led by former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan and former CIA intelligence-analysis director Jami Miscik, say officials close to the matter. Mr. Brennan is viewed as a potential candidate for a top intelligence post. Ms. Miscik left amid a slew of departures from the CIA under then-Director Porter Goss.
Advisers caution that few decisions will be made until the team gets a better picture of how the Bush administration actually goes about gathering intelligence, including covert programs, and there could be a greater shift after a full review.
The Obama team plans to review secret and public executive orders and recent Justice Department guidelines that eased restrictions on domestic intelligence collection. “They’ll be looking at existing executive orders, then making sure from Jan. 20 on there’s going to be appropriate executive-branch oversight of intelligence functions,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview shortly before Election Day.
The early transition effort is winning praise from moderate Democrats. “He’s surrounded himself with excellent people — an excellent bipartisan group,” said Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the House homeland-security subcommittee on intelligence.
Civil-liberties and human-rights advocates, who helped Mr. Obama win election, are seeking both a reversal of Bush administration policies and expanded investigations into possible illegal actions when the administration sought to track down terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“We need to understand what happened,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office.
Most of those being discussed as candidates for director of national intelligence and director of the CIA have staked out a middle ground between safeguarding civil liberties and aggressively pursuing nontraditional adversaries.
Mr. Brennan is a leading contender for one of the two jobs, say some advisers. He declined to comment on personnel matters. Gen. James L. Jones, a former North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander; Thomas Fingar, the chief of analysis for the intelligence director; Joan A. Dempsey, who served in top intelligence and Pentagon posts; former Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, who served on the 9/11 Commission; and Ms. Harman have also been mentioned. Ms. Harman has also been cited as a potential secretary of homeland security.
“I’m very flattered that some folks somewhere think I would be qualified for a number of positions,” she said. “But I’m also looking forward to an eighth term in Congress working on many of these issues.”
None of the others could be reached for comment.
Another option for Mr. Obama would be to retain current intelligence Director Mike McConnell, who has said he would stay on for a reasonable time until a successor is named. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden also is open to considering an extension of his time in office, according to a senior intelligence official.
However, Mr. Obama voted against Mr. Hayden’s nomination as CIA director to signal his frustration with the administration’s warrantless-surveillance program, which Mr. Hayden helped launch as National Security Agency director.
Write to Siobhan Gorman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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