- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

President Bush yesterday signed executive orders to expand the power of the CIA director and to create a new National Counterterrorism Center that will enhance information sharing among intelligence agencies.

Following through on his pledge to swiftly enact recommendations made by the bipartisan September 11 commission, the president temporarily granted to the CIA director many of the functions of a commission-proposed national intelligence director, who would oversee all 15 of the nation’s intelligence agencies.

“We’re now reforming our intelligence service so we can get better intelligence and share the intelligence better to disrupt terrorist plots,” the president said in a Miami speech late yesterday. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“But I just want to warn you: Reform isn’t easy in Washington. There’s a lot of entrenched interests up there. A lot of people say, they like the status quo. It’s not enough to advocate reform. You’ve got to be able to get the job done.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president’s action grants only interim authority for the director of central intelligence.

“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,” he said.

The move will give the CIA director temporary authority over budgetary issues at the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, a senior administration official said yesterday.

Mr. Bush signed another executive order yesterday to create a new National Counterterrorism Center (NCC) tasked with enhancing information sharing among intelligence agencies.

That order says the center will “serve as the primary organization in the United States government for analyzing and integrating all intelligence possessed or acquired by the United States government pertaining to terrorism and counterterrorism.”

The CIA director — whom the order designates as the president’s principal adviser on intelligence matters — will appoint the NCC director, with the approval of the president, and oversee the new agency.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential candidate, immediately criticized the president’s actions. He said the White House has come to the table on changes to national security “dragging and kicking” each time.

“Now they say they’re willing to embrace a director of national intelligence, but they’re not really willing to embrace it because they won’t give him budget authority,” he said.

Vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said the president “is finally acknowledging that we have failed to enact the intelligence reform needed to keep our country safe.”

“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.

Both are wrong, according to a senior White House official, who said the CIA director would have authority to set national intelligence priorities over the objections of Cabinet-level officials such as the defense secretary and would have new powers to decide the U.S. intelligence community’s $40 billion annual budget.

Another executive order issued by Mr. Bush yesterday establishes a presidential board on safeguarding Americans’ civil liberties. The president also issued two directives: one calling for the establishment of a governmentwide standard for identifying federal employees and contractors with access to government facilities; and the other strengthening the government’s procedures for screening databases for suspected terrorists.

The president was under pressure to move quickly on the most pressing of 40 recommendations made by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which detailed events surrounding the attacks of September 11, and issued a report criticizing U.S. intelligence. The expansive report laid out numerous failures by the intelligence community, especially its inability to share important information.

But Mr. Bush’s moves yesterday address the two main recommendations: Creation of a strong national intelligence director and a unifying national counterterrorism center to handle intelligence.

According to the NCC executive order, the agency will:

• Concentrate analytical expertise on terrorism in one location.

• Assign strategic operational planning for counterterrorism activities.

• Serve as the central and shared knowledge bank on terrorists and international terror groups.

• Identify counterterrorism intelligence requirements.

• Assign operational responsibilities to lead agencies for counterterrorism activities.

The moves will “improve our ability to find, track and stop terrorists,” Mr. McClellan said.

In order to create a new national intelligence director, Congress will have to amend the National Security Act of 1947 that created the CIA, the National Security Council and the Defense Department at the outset of the Cold War.

Until then, the expanded powers will be wielded by acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin.

Mr. Bush has nominated former House intelligence chief Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican, as CIA director to replace George J. Tenet, who resigned last month after lapses involving Iraq and September 11. Mr. Goss will face confirmation hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence early next month.

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