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US Intelligence Nominee Pledges To Keep Senators Informed February 2, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell told skeptical senators Thursday that he would keep them informed of undercover activities if he is confirmed as director of national intelligence.

He also said he did not support use of private contractors to interrogate detainees.

With a resume that includes almost four decades of intelligence work, U.S. President George W. Bush’s choice to be the nation’s spy chief appeared headed for easy approval to become the second director of the newly established office.

Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee, McConnell was peppered with questions about the administration’s perceived reluctance to share intelligence material with members of Congress and about whether the multiheaded spy network can be managed successfully by a director of national intelligence.

“It is no secret that Vice Chairman (Kit) Bond and I have not been happy in the past with decisions by the administration to restrict access to required information by our members and staff,” said the committee’s Democratic chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller.

In responding to document requests, “the intelligence community claims we should not be looking over its shoulder,” said Republican Sen. Bond.

“I understand and am fully supportive of the role of the Congress in your oversight responsibilities,” said McConnell, who would oversee 16 spy agencies and coordinate with the president on intelligence matters.

Senators also asked if the office McConnell would head, created in 2004 legislation, was up to the task of coordinating national intelligence. It does not oversee some Defense Department intelligence operations and does not have direct authority over some collection components of the intelligence community.

“The challenge you will face, if confirmed, will be to figure out if we got it right,” Rockefeller said.
McConnell said he had already spoken to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the need to delineate clearly the authority of the director of national intelligence.

McConnell, 63, was first commissioned as a Navy line officer in 1967 and served in Vietnam. He gained renown as an intelligence briefer who could skillfully present complex national security matters to military leaders and policymakers.

From 1990 to 1992, covering the Persian Gulf War, he was intelligence officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving then Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell, an Army general. From 1992 to 1996, he headed the National Security Agency, the world’s largest code-breaking and eavesdropping agency.

For the past decade he has worked for Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a large defense and intelligence consulting company with sales of $3.7 billion worldwide. A specialist in the subjects of cybersecurity and critical infrastructure assurance, he has been earning a salary of almost $2 million a year.

In his government job, his salary will be $186,600 a year.

The White House has made clear that McConnell would divest his company’s stock if confirmed, and a Booz Allen Hamilton spokesman has said the company will establish contracting firewalls to avoid conflicts of interest with McConnell.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said he still finds it “troubling how little information is available about private contractors who are doing an increasing amount of work for the intelligence agencies.”

Wyden also asked McConnell about his role as a contractor in the Total Information Awareness data-mining program, which was discontinued in 2003 amid criticism that it was collecting personal information of private citizens. McConnell said his advice had been that information should be used only if using it adhered to the Constitution and current laws and ethical values.

Asked by Wyden about the use of private contractors as interrogators, which the Defense Department and the CIA have had to deal with in countering accusasions of detainee abuse, McConnell responded: “I can’t imagine using our contractors for something like that.”

Bond later noted that there might be occasions, such as when a detainee who speaks a rare language must be questioned, when “a properly supervised” contract employee might be the only way to get badly needed information.

Several senators asked whether McConnell, as a military man accustomed to following orders, would speak out if the president were given inappropriate or slanted intelligence, as critics say occurred in the run-up to the Iraq war.

He said he would be forthright with the president and Congress when problems arise over the accuracy of intelligence. “The first calling of an intelligence officer is to speak truth to power,” McConnell said.

The first director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, has been nominated to become deputy secretary of the State Department.

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