- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

President Bush, in an apparent reversal, has decided that the new national intelligence director recommended by the September 11 commission should have the budgetary and hire-fire authority that the commission wanted, a member of the bipartisan panel said yesterday.

“I have very good reason to believe that is what the president intends,” said John Lehman, the Reagan-era Navy secretary, confirming reports from a handful of journalists briefed Friday by a senior White House official. Mr. Lehman declined to elaborate on the reasons.

The question of what powers the new director should have is at the heart of the most politically explosive element of the commission’s proposals for a radical restructuring of the 15 agencies that make up the nation’s intelligence community.

Currently, the head of the CIA, formally referred to as the director of central intelligence, is responsible for coordinating the activities of all 15 agencies, but the commission’s report argues that the post lacks the necessary authority — particularly over the eight agencies located inside the Department of Defense, which spend more than three-quarters of the intelligence budget.

The commission recommended that the new director have budgetary and hire-fire power over the whole community.

“There are only two phrases that really give you power in this town,” commission member Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman, said recently. “‘Here’s your money,’ and ‘You’re fired.’”

But when the president announced on Aug. 2 that he would ask Congress to create the new post, he said the director “ought to be able to coordinate budgets.” White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. elaborated that the director “would have significant input into the development of a budget,” adding later that the director would develop a budget “consistent with other agencies.”

On personnel issues, Mr. Card said the administration did “not want to do anything that would undermine the chain of command” of the CIA, the Defense Department or other agencies that house parts of the intelligence community, such as the Department of Homeland Security.

“We do not feel that people should be, quote, appointed by and working for the national intelligence director,” he said.

But the members and supporters of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States publicly fretted that the new post would be toothless without budget and personnel authorities. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said the director’s role as projected by the White House was “a kind of Potemkin national intelligence director, where you see the facade but there’s not real authority behind it.”

On the other hand, the commission’s proposals provoked dismay at the Pentagon and among its allies on Capitol Hill. Defense officials have expressed unease at the changes that would curtail their authority over the four so-called national agencies in the Pentagon — the ones that build and run the nation’s spy satellites, listening posts and other forms of electronic eavesdropping.

“Bureaucrats and Cabinet barons do not want their power reduced and will fight that, no matter how much the change might benefit the country,” said Patrick Lang, a former senior Defense Intelligence Agency official and a staunch advocate of the panel’s recommendations.

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