Questions for the intelligence community

By Walter Pincus, Published: January 30

Here are some questions that members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence should ask the heads of the intelligence community when the panel meets Tuesday morning for Congress’ first public assessment in 2012 of worldwide threats.


Afghanistan is the only country where substantial numbers of U.S. forces are fighting. President Obama and the NATO coalition have set 2014 as the date for all foreign combat forces to withdraw and the Afghan army and police to take over security responsibilities.

In the December 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan, the community opinion was that gains from the 2009 troop surge have been mitigated by continuing government incompetence and corruption and insurgents’ ability to be resupplied from Pakistan sanctuaries. The apparent stalemate, if continued, endangers future stability as U.S. combat troops continue to depart, says the NIE.

The Afghan coalition commander, Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker signed a dissent to the NIE’s judgments, questioning the intelligence community assumptions about Taliban intentions, the capability of Afghan security forces and the speed of the U.S. withdrawal.

For CIA Director David H. Petraeus:

1. When you were Afghan commander you also had disagreements with intelligence community views of the fighting so what is your personal position today in this dispute?

2. What causes such differences and how should members of Congress and the public judge them?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has opposed negotiating with the Taliban and recently said the Afghan war would be ended only by “beating them.”

The Taliban delegation has arrived in Qatar to man their political office, which the Obama administration hopes will lead to political talks with the Karzai government to end the fighting.

For Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.:

1. Does this group represent all the Taliban insurgents?

2. Does it represent the Haqqani network, which has ties to al-Qaida?

3. Does the Pakistan Army’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence support the political negotiations?

4. Is it true that U.S. officials in Qatar are working out an arrangement with the Taliban delegation to move Taliban detainees from Guantanamo?


Iran has reached the capability of enriching uranium to 20 percent at an underground facility near Qom, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. From that level, it is no great leap to reach a weapons grade level of 90 percent.

For Clapper:

1. Assuming that the Iranian leadership has yet to decide to produce a nuclear weapon, what event or issue does the intelligence community believe will trigger that step to be taken?

2. If that decision is made, how long do you think it would take for the United States to learn about it?

3. If that decision is made, how long would it take Iran to build a nuclear weapon?

4. Would Iran have to test a nuclear device before building a weapon?

5. Do you expect Tehran would announce it has a nuclear weapon, or would it maintain silence as does Israel?

Hekmati arrest

Amir Hekmati, the former Marine accused of being a CIA agent and sentenced to death in Iran last month, was arrested by the Iranians last August. Obama administration officials have denied he had any CIA connection. The FBI has been investigating Hekmati in this country.

For FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III:

1. What have you learned about why this former Marine and Defense Department contractor went to Iran?

2. Was he ever warned about the dangers he faced by going there?

3. Is there any indication he intended on his own to supply classified documents to Iran?

For Clapper:

1. Do you have any intelligence indicating why Hekmati was arrested?

2. Was the release of American hikers, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer on Sept. 21, 2011, related to Hekmati’s arrest a month earlier?

DNI/CIA relations

The role of the DNI has been an evolving one. A clash between former national intelligence director Dennis C. Blair and then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta was among the reasons Blair left that job.

For Clapper:

1. How do you perform your statutory role as the president’s chief adviser on intelligence? For example, do you attend each Oval Office morning national security briefing, and if not, how often do you see the president?

2. How often do you meet with the heads of the other intelligence agencies?

For Petraeus:

1. Have you made any structural changes within the agency since your arrival, and if so, why?

2. How often do you attend the president’s morning briefing?

3. Do you have any set meeting time with the president?

Clandestine operations

There has been a running discussion over presidential approval and congressional reporting under statutes governing covert and clandestine paramilitary operations that involve either CIA or Defense Department personnel or both acting jointly: The attack in Pakistan and killing of Osama bin Laden being one. There are studies being made about putting all such covert and clandestine operations under one agency, outside the CIA or the Pentagon.

For Clapper and Petraeus:

1. How are decisions made today under the current laws to carry out such operations?

2. Should there be one law governing authorization and congressional reporting for such paramilitary operations in the future and a separate organization to carry them out?

3. Does the continued expansion of special forces mean that more of these operations will be carried out in the future?

Answers to these types of questions at this, or the four other worldwide threat hearings that will occur over the next several weeks before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate and House Armed Services Committees could go a long way toward giving the public more insight into — and faith in — the intelligence community.