Bush widens spy chief's authority

More power is granted over hiring, the CIA

August 01, 2008|By David Nitkin and Bradley Olson | David Nitkin and Bradley Olson,Sun reporters

WASHINGTON - President Bush has broadened the power of the nation's spy chief, the White House announced yesterday, drawing measured praise from intelligence analysts and complaints from members of Congress who said they were not consulted.

In strengthening the role of the director of national intelligence, Bush reduced the authority of the CIA in some areas. Congress created the intelligence director's job after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to help coordinate all of the nation's spying operations, but the director's effectiveness has been hampered by interagency power struggles and a lack of control over spending.

Bush has issued a new executive order, made public by the White House, revising rules issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 that govern the operation of the federal intelligence apparatus.

The Bush order gives the director explicit authority, according to the White House, to "participate more fully" in the hiring and firing of key intelligence personnel. Among the most significant challenges for the director has been creating lines of authority among the CIA, the FBI, the Defense Department and more than a dozen other intelligence agencies.

"I think you have to have one boss," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat and member of the House Intelligence Committee.

The Bush order also authorizes the intelligence director, Mike McConnell, to strike cooperative deals with foreign governments, a function previously held by the CIA. The CIA would still carry out information-gathering.

"It sets up a system of cooperation and networking between different agencies" and "legitimizes what we need to do" on intelligence issues, Ruppersberger said.

Senior White House officials said the order - signed by the president Wednesday evening - sharpens areas in which McConnell "thought clarifications were necessary," and that the intelligence chief was "fully satisfied" with the outcome of the lengthy review of intelligence operations.

Intelligence analysts said the new rules will strengthen McConnell's ability to provide the president with a balanced view on the quality of information about national security topics.

The order also puts the nation's intelligence chief in a better position to spearhead reforms, such as better information-sharing, which investigations of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks concluded was a major problem among the country's 16 intelligence agencies, analysts said.

"They are really trying to set the next team up to walk in the door and have a functioning government, and they are doing it in a way that's workable for a Republican or Democrat," said James Carafano, a senior counterterrorism researcher at the Heritage Foundation.

Other analysts and former intelligence officials expressed skepticism, noting that the intelligence director will still lack control over how intelligence funding is spent, meaning that conflicts between individual agencies probably would continue.

"There's a lot less there than meets the eye," said Mark Lowenthal, a former high-ranking CIA official and staff director of the House Intelligence Committee. "All it basically does is bring the old executive order up to date with new structure, which is necessary, but it doesn't fundamentally change anything beyond that."

Although the Bush order ostensibly gives the director greater control over some purchasing and personnel, the position "still has very little authority," Lowenthal said.

Lawmakers from both parties said they were angered by how the update was unveiled, noting that the Bush administration started revisions a year ago but did not involve Congress until recently.

Lawmakers did not see a copy until Wednesday, officials said, and they were required to return it after a few hours. They did not see the final version until the White House released it.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top-ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, led a walkout of Republican members of Congress from a briefing by McConnell yesterday.

All but three of the GOP representatives left, according to a congressional official.

The way the review was conducted "cannot be seen as anything other than an attempt to undercut congressional oversight," Hoekstra said.

"After seven years of a go-it-alone presidency, perhaps I should expect nothing more from this White House," Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat who leads the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "But this order will be binding on future administrations as well."

Many lawmakers withheld comment as they sorted through the rewrite of U.S. intelligence policy.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he was "very satisfied" with the new system, which he said came about through unusual cooperation based on personal relationships among him, McConnell and other top intelligence officials.

"I believe that the authorities of the secretary of defense are adequately preserved in this," said Gates, whose department oversees most intelligence spending.

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