Bush endorses post of intelligence czar

Differing with 9/11 panel, he would limit power

`Our goal is unified effort'

Counterterror center also gets executive nod

Threat Of Terrorism

August 03, 2004|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Endorsing the key recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission, President Bush called yesterday for a national intelligence director, but he stopped short of investing the new position with control of the purse strings or full operational authority over the nation's disparate intelligence agencies.

As Bush described it, the director, a post that Congress would have to create by legislation, would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The president would have authority to fire the intelligence chief.

Bush also embraced a second major proposal of the 9/11 panel, urging the establishment of a national counterterrorism center to serve as a clearinghouse for government-wide intelligence gathering activities.

"All the institutions of our government must be fully prepared for a struggle against terror that will last into the future," Bush said in the Rose Garden, flanked by his top national security aides. "Our goal is an integrated, unified national intelligence effort."

Bush said he was confident that creating the new position would serve two purposes: The president would get unvarnished advice about threats to the country from one person, and agencies across the government would be better able to share and access information about threats.

But it remained unclear what real authority the director would have over the activities of the nation's 15 intelligence agencies, which include the CIA, FBI and the Maryland-based National Security Agency, as well as lesser-known entities such as the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates the nation's spy satellites.

The Sept. 11 commission called for the director to craft the budget for the intelligence community, which Bush agreed to, according to a White House fact sheet.

The panel also sought for the director to have authority to re-allocate money as needed during the fiscal year. The president did not go that far.

He said he will leave the final details to Congress, but Bush said he envisions the director as his principal intelligence adviser, one with some budgetary authority and an oversight role in the intelligence community.

The president also differed markedly with the commission on where the director and the counterterrorism center should be bureaucratically based.

The commission called for both to be in the executive office of the president to afford maximum clout.

Bush rejected that suggestion, saying the director should operate outside the orbit of the White House to avoid being overly influenced by top-ranking presidential aides.

Chain of command

In suggesting that the director should not have full control over intelligence agency budgets, Bush said he wanted to ensure that the chain of command is not breached.

The director, Bush said, "ought to be able to coordinate budgets" and "set priorities."

But, he said, "When it comes to operations, the chain of command will be intact. When the Defense Department is conducting operations to secure the homeland, there'll be nothing in between the secretary of defense and me."

Critics said they worried that the director, without the authority to move around money and hire or fire the heads of agencies, would be little more than a glorified director of central intelligence.

Limited authority

Currently, the central intelligence director oversees intelligence agencies across the government, but his ability to direct how they operate has long been limited, and he has no budgetary authority except in his own bailiwick.

It is an arrangement that the 9/11 commission criticized as inefficient and as a major weakness in intelligence capabilities.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said that without "real budgetary authority" the director "will be powerless to integrate our intelligence agencies."

`Common action'

The 9/11 commission's chairman and vice chairman, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, released a statement praising Bush as well as the president's Democrat rival, John Kerry, for acknowledging the need for reform and agreeing on "some of the basic goals" of the panel.

"We must convert common purpose to common action," they said.

Bush called on Congress to take up his proposals when it return in September from summer hiatus - which was not soon enough for Democrats, who accused Bush of foot-dragging and said he should call lawmakers back for a summer session.

"When we are at war, we need to do the things that make us safe rapidly, immediately," Kerry said on the campaign trail. "If there is something that will make America safer, it should be done now, not tomorrow."

In additon, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said she was calling all House Democrats back to Washington on Aug. 10 to meet with the commission. She urged Republicans to do the same.

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