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Kerry on intelligence

Robert Novak

June 10, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Under attack by Republicans for proposing deep cuts in the intelligence budget a decade ago, John Kerry is trying to justify them as efforts to slice away pork. The problem is that during the Senate debate on Feb. 19, 1994, Kerry was taken to task by two pillars of the then Democratic majority: Dennis DeConcini of Arizona and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.

DeConcini, the Intelligence Committee chairman, and Inouye, the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee chairman, assailed Kerry's unsuccessful efforts to cut the intelligence budget. DeConcini calculated it would cost $1 billion in intelligence spending that year and $5 billion over the next five years. Both senators suggested Kerry did not recognize the dangers existing then after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. In opposing Kerry's amendment, DeConcini declared, "We no longer seem immune from acts of terrorism in the United States." Inouye asked: "Is this the time to cut the satellite programs that give our forces warning of attacks?"

Since George W. Bush's re-election campaign has made this dispute an issue, Sen. Kerry has faced a choice. He could admit an error in past judgment, which is never easy or perhaps prudent for a presidential candidate. Or, he could defend what seems a politically vulnerable position. Kerry has taken the latter course. When this column asked about Kerry's past position this week, campaign spokesman Chad Clanton replied: "You bet, John Kerry voted against business as usual in our intelligence community. It is no secret that we've got some serious problems with our intelligence."

The issue, first raised by Bush in March, has been revived by published accusations that the president's campaign has distorted the senator's record. This is a question worth exploring because it addresses Kerry's judgment as an experienced public servant. His unfortunate charges of American war crimes in Vietnam can be excused as the excesses of an angry 27-year-old war veteran. In 1994, he was 50 years old with 10 years experience as a U.S. senator and was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The defense by the campaign is that Kerry's proposed intelligence cuts were aimed at what "was essentially a slush fund for defense contractors." Clanton added: "Unlike George Bush, John Kerry does not support every special spending project supported by Halliburton and other defense contractors."

While the Kerry campaign suggests the senator somehow foretold the 1995 "slush fund" scandal over the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) hoarding $1 billion in unspent funds, he never mentioned the NRO in 1994. His amendment, offered without co-sponsors, would have cut intelligence across the board.

In the floor debate, DeConcini said his committee had pruned the intelligence budget by $1.2 billion for that fiscal year, and that is "as deep as the intelligence community can withstand." He added "it makes no sense for us to close our eyes to developments around the world." Noting imminent bombing in the Balkans, Inouye warned "we are putting blindfolds over our pilots' eyes."

In the debate, Kerry did not respond to criticism from DeConcini and Inouye. He did not address intelligence specifically, much less single out pork barrel projects in the intelligence budget that his campaign now says he was targeting. However, 10 days earlier on the Senate floor, Kerry declared: "The madness must end."

Kerry's amendment failed 75 to 20 -- opposed by his Massachusetts colleague, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy; a future Intelligence Committee chairman, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida; and the Appropriations Committee chairman, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

The senator is described by campaign aides as attempting to restore human intelligence to learn about terrorism, drug trafficking and international crime. But at an Intelligence Committee meeting in 1995, Kerry asked "whether we should use paid clandestine human assets in situations where the ramifications of discovery are so great and the risk of U.S. security is so minimal."

Such suspicion of human intelligence had been the liberal line since the early 1970s, grinding down CIA assets. Indeed, Kerry's assault on intelligence spending had been urged by liberals for the past quarter of a century. The presidential candidate now attempts to rationalize his past conduct rather than repudiate it.


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I find it amazing that Robert Novak can criticize anyone on intelligence since he obviously cares so little about it, as evidenced by his exposing an undercover CIA agent. :blink:

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So Tiger Al, does the content of what Novak said hold any water?

Here's one non-partisan take on it:

Bush Strains Facts Re: Kerry's Plan To Cut Intelligence Funding in '90's

President claims 1995 Kerry plan would "gut" the intelligence services. It was a 1% cut, and key Republicans approved something similar.

March 15, 2004Modified: March 15, 2004



The Bush campaign accused Kerry of "a pattern" of trying to cut intelligence funding. Bush personally accused Kerry of attempting to "gut the intelligence services" with a "deeply irresponsible" 1995 proposal.

It's true that Kerry proposed cuts in 1994 and 1995, and the his 1994 proposal was criticized on the Senate floor by some members of his own party. But the proposal Bush criticized would have amounted to a reduction of roughly 1%. And senior congressional Republicans supported a cut two-thirds as large at the time.



President Bush said March 8 at a political fundraiser in Dallas that Kerry's 1995 proposal to cut $1.5 billion over five years was "deeply irresponsible."

His bill was so deeply irresponsible that he didn't have a single co-sponsor in the United States Senate. Once again, Senator Kerry is trying to have it both ways. He's for good intelligence, yet he was willing to gut the intelligence services. And that is no way to lead a nation in a time of war.

"Gut" intelligence? It was 1%

It's true that Kerry's 1995 proposal called for cutting intelligence funding by $1.5 billion over five years. The actual amount of intelligence spending is classified, but according to the Boston Globe, the Washington Post and others, the US was spending roughly $27 billion on intelligence at the time. So the $300-million cut would have amounted to a little over 1 percent. Hardly a "gutting."

It's true Kerry's measure had no co-sponsors and died without a hearing. But that's hardly evidence it was "deeply irresponsible" as the President claimed. On the contrary, there was bipartisan support for cutting what was seen as wasteful spending of classified intelligence funds.

In fact, Kerry's proposal came five days after the Washington Post had reported that one intelligence agency, the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office, had quietly hoarded between $1 billion and $1.7 billion in unspent funds without informing the Central Intelligence Agency or the Pentagon. The CIA was in the midst of an inquiry into the NRO's funding because of complaints that the agency had spent $300 million on unspent funds from its classified budget to build a new headquarters building in Virginia a year earlier.

"Irresponsible?"  But Republicans Approved.

Also, the very same day Kerry proposed his $1.5 billion cut, the Senate passed by voice vote an amendment proposed by Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to eliminate $1 billion in intelligence funds for fiscal year 1996. Specter made clear he was attempting to recoup $1 billion in unused intelligence funds from the NRO:

It has alleged that the NRO has accumulated more than $1 billion in unspent funds without informing the Pentagon, CIA, or Congress.

Kerry co-sponsored a companion measure to the Specter amendment, along with Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. The cut eventually became law as part of a House-Senate package endorsed by the Republican leadership.

And in fact, the reports of an NRO slush fund turned out to be true. According to former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith, who led the investigation:

Our inquiry revealed that the NRO had for years accumulated very substantial amount as a 'rainy day fund.'

Smith, quoted by Slate Magazine, said Kerry's proposal was an attempt "to re-assert adequate Congressional oversight of the intelligence budget."

A "pattern?" Well, not exactly

The Bush campaign in a March 9 document accused Kerry of "a pattern of intelligence cuts." But aside from the 1995 proposal, the only evidence of a "pattern" offered was a  1994 deficit-reduction bill Kerry sponsored (S. 1826) that included a $1 billion a year in cuts to the intelligence budget for 1994-1998.

It is true that some members of Kerry's own party criticized that proposal. Sen. Dennis DeConcini said intelligence funds already had been cut $3.5 billion:

I continue to believe that last year's intelligence cut was as deep as the intelligence community can withstand during its post-cold-war transition.

And Sen. Daniel Inouye echoed that:

An additional $1 billion would severely hamper the intelligence community's ability to provide decisionmakers and policymakers with information on matters vital to this country.

On Feb 10,1994, Kerry's amendment was defeated 75-20 with 38 Democratic Senators voting against it.

But it is also true that even at that time there was growing concern about the how effectively the intelligence agencies were spending the money they had. Later in 1994 Congress formed the Aspin Commission to assess the state of the intelligence services. It was bipartisan. Following the death of former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, for whom the panel was named, it was headed by another former Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, and by Republican former Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire.

When the 17-member panel completed its report two years later, it said intelligence funding, despite recent cuts, was still 80% higher than it had been in 1980 even after adjustments for inflation. And while the commission did not recommend any more cuts, it acknowledged that balancing the federal budget would probably require that cuts be made.

And the commission stopped well short of claiming further cuts would "gut" the intelligence services:

Reductions to the existing and planned intelligence resources may be possible without damaging the nation's security. Indeed, finding such reductions is critical . . . (I)t is clear a more rigorous analysis of the resources budgeted for intelligence is required.



Wayne Washington, "Bush Hits Kerry Try in 1995 to Cut Intelligence; 'Misleading Attack,' Senator's Camp Says," The Boston Globe 9 March 2004.

Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank “Bush Exaggerates Kerry’s Position on Intelligence Budget” Washington Post 12 March 2004: A4.

Mike Allen, "Bush, Cheney Attack Kerry as Indecisive; President Focuses on Intelligence Issues," The Washington Post 9 March 2004: A6.

Richard W. Stevenson and Jodi Wilgoren, "Bush Attacks Kerry on Bill to Trim Intelligence Budget," The New York Times 9 March 2004: A20.

Jennifer Loven, "Bush accuses Kerry of trying to have it 'both ways,'" The Associated Press 9 March 2004.

Fred Kaplan, "John Kerry's Defense Defense, " Slate Magazine Posted 25 Feb. 2004.

Fred Kaplan, "Bush Insults Kerry's Intelligence, " Slate Magazine Posted 9 March 2004.

"Chairman Ed Gillespie News Conference on Sen. Kerry's Voting Record, " 25 Feb. 2004, Gop.com.

"The Kerry Line, Kerry: A Pattern of Intelligence Cuts ," 9 March 2004 Bush-Cheney '04, Inc.

"Statement from Kerry Spokesman on Bush Attacks on Kerry Record on Intelligence,"  8 March 2004 JohnKerry.com.

"Preparing for the 21st Century: An Appraisal of U.S. Intelligence, " Aspin Commission 1 March 1996.

"Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign Chairman Governor Marc Racicot's Letter to Senator John Kerry, " 22 Feb. 2004 Georgebush.com.

"Statement by Speaker Dennis Hastert: Kerry's Record of Cutting Intelligence,"  9 March 2004 Georgebush.com.

S. 1290 "Responsible Deficit Reduction Act of 1995 ," Introduced 29 Sept. 1995.

S. Amdt 2881 to S. 922 Proposed 29 Sept. 1995.

S. 1826 "Deficit Reduction Act of 1994, " Introduced 3 Feb. 1994.

S. Amdt 1452 to H.R. 3759 Proposed 9 Feb. 1994.

George W. Bush, "President Lays Out the Clear Choice: Steady Leadership vs. Uncertain & Unfair Policies, " 8 March 2004 Georgebush.com.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 103rd Congrees - 2nd Session S.Amdt 1452 Vote #39 10 Feb. 1994.


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TexasTiger, you beat me to it. Robert Novak is nothing more than a skid-mark in the world of journalism and ought to be in prison along with his leaker buddy.

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