Before he left office, President Eisenhower warned Americans to be alert to meshing "the huge industrial and military machinery of defense" into a civilian-run society.
His words are worth heeding as Congress works to set up a homeland security department, especially in light of a proposal by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to have intelligence activities within the Pentagon run by a new defense undersecretary.
On its face, the idea seems reasonable. Mr. Rumsfeld could delegate a role he now has in coordinating intelligence with the CIA. An undersecretary could bring more (as Mr. Rumsfeld notes) "laser-like" focus on the military's intelligence operations.
But former CIA chiefs, including John Deutch and Adm. Stansfield Turner, have concerns. Could the move be designed to help keep the lion's share of the intelligence budget in the Defense Department, or used as a way to retain control? The CIA director has authority over intelligence efforts run by the Pentagon, but the Defense Department manages the money for these intelligence activities. In next year's budget, that amount comes to more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget some $35 billion.
Already, the Defense Department oversees spending for the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Also funded are the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which analyzes military intelligence, and the individual intelligence activities of the four military branches.
The Rumsfeld proposal conflicts with another proposal by former national security director, Brent Scowcroft, who reportedly would assign more power to the director of central Intelligence and transfer budgetary authority and supervision of the NSA, NIMA, and NRO to him.
If it's not a power grab, as some critics argue, Rumsfeld's idea certainly looks like one. Last month, he said he would like to expand the role of Special Operations forces within the military against Al Qaeda, and have those forces assume certain covert CIA functions as well.
What's still needed is an overall director of intelligence, with both budgetary authority and command to sift and analyze information collected by all 14 intelligence agencies.