Bush's proposal for director leaves some dissatisfied
Some lawmakers think Bush needs to give the position more authority.
WASHINGTON -- President Bush is urging the creation of a national intelligence director, but some lawmakers wonder whether the post he's proposed will have enough power to get the nation's 15 sometimes turf-conscious spy agencies working in concert.
"All the institutions of our government must be fully prepared for a struggle against terror that will last into the future," Bush said Monday in the Rose Garden, where he announced his support for a national intelligence chief and a national center to plan counterterror operations in the United States and abroad. "Our goal is an integrated, unified national intelligence effort."
The two proposals Bush embraced were the key recommendations of a bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Today, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will discuss the counterterrorism center and the House Government Reform Committee will hold hearings on how to reorganize executive branch agencies so they do a better job of sharing information.
"If Congress has the will, I believe we could enact intelligence reform legislation before we recess for the elections so that changes are in place before the year is over," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. "That's an ambitious timetable. But I think it is justified, given that our country is under threat of attack."
In the interim
While Congress works on legislation to create the intelligence director post, the president will tell the CIA director to tap all the authority he has under current law to manage all 15 agencies, a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.
The official would not speculate about who would be put in charge of carrying this out.
He said Bush might name acting CIA director John McLaughlin to the job, and later nominate him or someone else to be America's first national intelligence director. The president also needs to fill the CIA director's slot by picking McLaughlin, who's been warming the seat since George Tenet resigned in June, or someone new.
"I expect he'll have more to say on that soon," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Homeland security has become a central theme in this year's presidential race. Bush's announcement showed his determination to keep what polls show is a substantial advantage over Democratic rival John Kerry on the issue of fighting terrorism.
The president said the new reforms he's proposing are in addition to steps the administration already has taken, such as refocusing the FBI on terror threats, creating the Homeland Security Department, setting up the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and working to ensure a "seamless spread of information throughout our government."
Kerry said Bush should have acted sooner. "I regret that it's taken us almost three years to get to the point where these recommendations are now being adopted," Kerry said. "Many of them I called for and others have called for over the course of the last years. ... I regret that the president seems to have no sense of urgency to make America as safe as it needs to be."
The White House announcement immediately drew criticism from Democrats because Bush rejected the Sept. 11 commission's recommendation that a new national intelligence director control all intelligence budgets and have the authority to choose who would lead the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies. The president also turned aside the commission's idea for placing both the counterterrorism center and the director within the White House.
"I don't think that person ought to be a member of my Cabinet," Bush said. "I will hire the person, and I can fire the person. ... I don't think that the office ought to be in the White House, however.
"I think it ought to be a stand-alone group, to better coordinate, particularly between foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence matters."
Proximity to president
The commission did not explicitly say that the so-called intelligence czar should be a member of the Cabinet, but it did call for the official to work in the White House in order to have clear authority and access to the president. A joint congressional inquiry in December 2002 called for the job to be a Cabinet position.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, questioned Bush's decision. "The power and authority given to these new entities will determine whether these changes actually fix the problem or make it worse," he said. If the new director cannot control the budgets of intelligence agencies, he said, "this new position will be no more than window dressing."
Defense Department clout
Flynt Leverett, a former CIA senior analyst and National Security Council staffer at the Bush White House who is now at the Brookings Institution, said Bush's decision reflects the fact that the Defense Department currently handles about 80 percent of the intelligence budget.
"I think it was clear that the price for getting [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld to agree to this -- to buy off on this -- was to basically make it clear that Rumsfeld wasn't going to suffer any diminution of his budgetary or operational authority on the intelligence community elements that are currently part of DOD," he said.
Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, insisted the national intelligence director would have "an awful lot of clout, an awful lot of power" even though he lacked the authority to set the budget for individual intelligence agencies.
The Defense Department and Homeland Security Department both have budgets and have to go through a process that includes a review by the Office of Management and Budget. "And that should be the same for the national intelligence director," Card said.