Bush issues executive orders to boost powers of CIA chief

Democrats say actions do not go far enough

August 28, 2004|By Rick Pearson | Rick Pearson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MIAMI - Buffeted by Democratic criticism that he has not moved quickly enough on the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission, President Bush issued several executive orders yesterday aimed at strengthening intelligence-gathering and concentrating authority under the director of central intelligence.

The White House described the orders as a first step toward a national intelligence director, which was recommended by the panel created to investigate shortcomings in intelligence surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the Bush administration would work with Congress to formally establish a national intelligence director, which would require legislation. But no agreement has been reached on how much authority over budget or personnel would go with the position - a matter that has been debated among commission members, lawmakers and the administration.

McClellan has said repeatedly that the White House has an "open mind" on budgetary and personnel authority and that the administration wants to have a position that is as "independent" as possible. The overall budget for intelligence operations is estimated at $40 billion.

But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has expressed reluctance to act quickly on the national intelligence director's post. The Pentagon controls more than $3 billion of the nation's intelligence budget.

Asked by reporters whether the White House would support granting total budgetary control over defense and nondefense budgets to the new position, a senior administration official said only that the president's actions reflect Bush's "commitment that the national intelligence director is going to have all the authority they need to do the job that they need to do."

Administration officials also said the enhanced powers of the director of central intelligence will give the director the power to make final decisions on where assets should be deployed or moved. Intelligence-gathering duties are now largely split between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon. Bush has ordered that the heads of such agencies as the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency report to the director of central intelligence, who would exercise full authority.

But leading members of the Sept. 11 panel have opposed moves that would merely give the director of central intelligence the role of national intelligence director, preferring instead that the job be divided, with one person having direct oversight of CIA operations while leaving the national intelligence director free from day-to-day decision-making.

An administration official said Bush supports the creation of two separate posts.

Bush also issued executive orders to create a national counterterrorism center, requiring greater intelligence-sharing activities, setting out a proposal for identification standards for federal workers and contractors working in federal facilities and authorizing the creation of a presidential board on safeguarding civil liberties.

Bush's move comes just days before the start of the Republican National Convention, where a major theme will be the president's efforts at combating terrorism and his response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry has been sharply critical of the Bush administration for failing to quickly carry out the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations, including for a national intelligence director with large-scale oversight authority. Kerry has also called for a special session of Congress to consider the commission's report.

Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, said Bush's action acknowledges a failure to enact intelligence reforms needed to keep the nation safe. Edwards also said Bush's plan for a national intelligence director "does not get the job done."

"Today's actions fall short," Edwards said. "The president needs to demonstrate the kind of leadership that is necessary to work with Congress to enact meaningful intelligence reform."

After CIA Director George J. Tenet resigned on July 11, John E. McLaughlin became the acting intelligence chief. Bush has nominated Rep. Porter J. Goss, a Florida Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to become director of central intelligence.

Senate hearings on the nomination are to begin next month.

Bush issued the executive orders while on a campaign trip to Miami.

Before a re-election rally, Bush met with firefighters and other emergency services workers at a Miami fire station to get a briefing on efforts to recover from Hurricane Charley.

It was Bush's second visit to Florida since the hurricane blasted from the Gulf of Mexico through central Florida two weeks ago.

McClellan said that Bush will seek an additional $2 billion in disaster relief for the area from Congress on top of $1 billion already budgeted for the effects of the storm.

Tribune staff writer Frank James contributed to this article from California. The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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