Bush gives CIA chief more power
Bush expands CIA powers, creates antiterrorism center Clearinghouse set for data on terror suspects
WASHINGTON -- President Bush yesterday expanded the powers of the CIA director and established a National Counterterrorism Center, responding to recommendations issued by the 9/11 Commission and to election-year pressure from his Democratic challenger.
Under a series of executive orders signed yesterday by the president, the CIA director is gaining control over budgets and other matters at the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Reconnaissance Office.
The White House described the moves as interim steps taken until Congress approves more sweeping changes to the management of the nation's intelligence agencies. Officials said the president went as far as he could to unilaterally expand the CIA director's authority in the interest of better coordination.
''Until the national intelligence director is created by Congress, we want to make sure that we have an interim structure in place to oversee some of these steps that we are taking," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. ''The president is committed to doing everything in his power to make sure that we are protecting the American people."
The 9/11 Commission has called on Congress to create a national intelligence director with personnel and budgetary authority over the full slate of 15 US intelligence agencies, a concept the Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John F. Kerry, has endorsed. Those agencies have a total annual budget of about $40 billion, and some of them are currently controlled by the Pentagon and the State Department.
The Bush administration has previously stopped short of endorsing centralized control for intelligence budgets under a single intelligence director. Yesterday, however, the president moved in that direction, and McClellan said he wants to move further along the lines of the commission's recommendations so the national intelligence director can ''do the job and do it effectively."
Still, White House officials stopped short of endorsing full budgetary authority for a national intelligence director over all spy agencies, saying that matter will be worked out in consultation with Congress. The White House wants to create a national intelligence director post superior to the CIA director, another recommendation made by the commission.
''He gave the [director of central intelligence] right now every power he was capable of giving him, within the limits of his executive authority," a senior White House official said.
''By law, he can't go further than that right now, and that's why we want to work with Congress."
In a second directive, Bush ordered the creation of a counterterrorism center, run by a presidential appointee, to serve as a clearinghouse for information on suspected terrorists. The center will coordinate operations involving diplomacy, law enforcement, the military, and intelligence agencies.
A third executive order charges intelligence agencies with sharing more information with one another. A fourth order creates a board charged with ''safeguarding America's civil liberties" by investigating possible legal violations by intelligence agencies and making recommendations for changes to the president. The board will be chaired by the deputy attorney general and will include representatives from a range of executive agencies.
The moves are being made as Bush faces harsh criticism from the Kerry campaign, which contends he has not quickly embraced the commission's July calls for an intelligence overhaul. Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, said yesterday that Bush should have acted far faster in ordering major changes to the nation's intelligence structure after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Edwards said that simply expanding the responsibilities of the existing CIA director will not bring the necessary coordination between agencies.
''Expanding the powers of the existing director of central intelligence is a far cry from creating a true national intelligence director with real control over personnel and budgets," he said. ''As the 9/11 Commission reported, one of the lessons of 9/11 is that our intelligence agencies must work together. Today's actions fall short."
By expanding the CIA director's responsibilities, Bush appears to be working to protect the CIA from possible elimination as an agency. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, this week proposed dismantling the CIA and other intelligence agencies and placing their functions under a new director. Roberts's is among a flurry of proposals slated to be considered by Congress, with an eye toward wrapping up work before the November elections.
In a joint statement, the top Republican and the top Democrat on the committee charged with responding to the 9/11 Commission's recommendations said they welcome Bush's executive orders as moves in the right direction. But they cautioned that more work must be done in Congress.
''Executive orders are only steps and ultimately will not be able to substitute for the legislation we hope to move in a bipartisan fashion through our committee in September," said the statement from Senators Susan M. Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut. Collins is chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Lieberman is the panel's ranking Democrat.
Under Bush's orders, acting CIA Director John McLaughlin will have the expanded powers until a replacement is confirmed. Bush has nominated former House intelligence chief Porter Goss to take over the job vacated last month by George Tenet. Goss faces Senate confirmation hearings early next month.
Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst who is a professor at National Defense University, said the president's move is designed to help the director of central intelligence maintain flexibility and better set priorities throughout the agencies. She said the president's approach appears to be appropriately cautious, since more radical changes to the structure of agencies requires further debate and discussion.
''It represents a more cautious approach, which is a relief," Yaphe said. ''It should strengthen the hand of a director of central intelligence in terms of setting priorities and funding programs."
But retired Lieutenant General William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, said the Bush administration is not going nearly far enough in addressing the most pressing shortcomings in the management of intelligence agencies. Bush's orders simply shift lines on organizational charts and don't make more important structural changes inside of the agencies to reflect the necessities of combating terror, Odom said.
''It won't do anything at all."
Rick Klein can be reached at email@example.com.