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06 February 2007

Intelligence Chief Nominee Warns of Internal Terrorist Threat

Retired Admiral McConnell cites need for reform of intelligence community

Washington -- Retired Navy Vice Admiral J. Michael McConnell, the man President Bush has tapped to be the next director of national intelligence, told senators at his confirmation hearing he will focus on reforming the intelligence community to counter a growing terrorist threat from inside the United States.

McConnell was the Pentagon's top intelligence officer during the first Iraq war and later headed the National Security Agency, an information-protection and intelligence-gathering organization.  He made his comments February 1 to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller.

If confirmed by the full Senate, McConnell said he would push reforms suggested by Congress emphasizing "integration of the intelligence community."

"We know that terrorist organizations today are making plans for attacks on our citizens inside our borders," McConnell testified.  Previously, the intelligence community "focused almost exclusively on foreign threats outside our borders.  What is new is the need to focus on these threats inside our borders."

To counter that security challenge, McConnell said he would use his new job as overall director of most U.S. intelligence operations, including the CIA, to push reforms aimed at improving "collecting and processing information ... consistent with our Constitution, our laws and our values to respect the rights and privacy of our citizens."

The position of DNI was created when Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that killed 3,000 people in New York and Washington and on an airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania.  If confirmed, McConnell would replace Ambassador John Negroponte, the first DNI, whom President Bush has nominated to be deputy secretary of state. (See related article.)

After working as a security consultant for private-sector companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, McConnell said he would like to apply "due diligence" and other results-oriented practices to operations "to focus on the needs of our [intelligence] customers."

Such practices include better sharing of information, more efficient acquisition and financial accounting, streamlined security processes and "deeper penetration of intelligence targets."

Asked if he would be willing to reform some of the rules regarding information gathering and analysis, McConnell indicated he would, saying, "We live today with security rules that literally were established in World War II and served us well – World War II and the Cold War."

But now, for example, he said, some of those rules stand in the way of employing first-generation Americans who "might have native language capabilities" from serving in some "very sensitive positions in the intelligence community."

McConnell also agreed with Committee Vice Chairman Christopher Bond that the bigger battle for the intelligence community is in understanding radical Islamists and jihadists, the ideological struggle.

"My view is we're going to have to look at that very hard to reform it ... to get inside, understand, and perhaps influence the ideological battle," McConnell said.

Senator Barbara Mikulski expressed concern that McConnell's military background might affect his objectivity and ability to speak candidly to the president.  "The military, by its very culture, says ?yes’ to the commander-in-chief," she said.  She asked if he could speak "truth to power."

"Senator, I believe that [the] first calling of an intelligence officer is to do just that – speak truth to power.  In my career, I hope I have a reputation for having done just that," McConnell said.

McConnell said, "There have been a number of occasions in my career where I had to not be popular, but speak truth to power.  What I found is when I did that, and I did it forcefully and I did it well, my reputation grew" as a manager of intelligence gathering and analysis.

Asked if he would have a channel for dissent and disagreement at DNI, McConnell said, "A manager, a leader has to know what's going on in the organization and there has to be a channel or multiple channels for dissent.  I like to do what I call management by walking around."  He said that approach provides a channel of information that flows to him and helps keep the system alert.

The full text (PDF, 77KB) of McConnell's remarks, as prepared for delivery, and a transcript (PDF, 87KB) of his confirmation hearing are available on the DNI Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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