- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

President Bush yesterday endorsed the creation of a national director of intelligence and a comprehensive counterterrorism center, moving quickly to enact two key recommendations issued last month by the September 11 commission.

“We’re a nation in danger,” Mr. Bush said in a Rose Garden press conference a day after the terror alert level for five buildings in New York, New Jersey and the District was raised to high or Code Orange, the second-highest rating.

“We’re doing everything in our power to confront the danger. We’re making good progress in protecting our people and bringing our enemies to account,” Mr. Bush said.

“But one thing is certain,” he said. “We’ll keep our focus and we’ll keep our resolve. We will do our duty to best secure the country.”

Of the two major moves, appointing a new national intelligence director (NID) is likely to be more contentious because it requires Congress to amend the 1947 National Security Act to create the position. The director would oversee the 15 intelligence agencies of the federal government, which the September 11 commission criticized for a fatal lack of coordination and cooperation.

“All the institutions of our government must be fully prepared for a struggle against terror that will last into the future,” Mr. Bush said. “I want — and every president must have — the best, unbiased, unvarnished assessment of America’s intelligence professionals.”

Mr. Bush’s announcement undercuts a recent line of attack by Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, who has endorsed wholesale the voluminous recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Mr. Kerry, who voted several times to cut intelligence funding during his Senate career, has accused Mr. Bush of dragging his feet on reforming the intelligence community.

At a campaign stop yesterday in Grand Rapids, Mich., Mr. Kerry maintained that the president’s sweeping plan to reorganize domestic and foreign intelligence doesn’t change his opinion.

“If we are at war, we need to do the things that make us safe rapidly, immediately,” Mr. Kerry said. “If there is something that will make America safer, it should be done now, not tomorrow.

“I regret that the president seems to have no sense of urgency to make America as safe as it needs to be,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that the president should “call the Congress back and get the job done now.”

Mr. Bush said he was satisfied that Congress already has begun hearings on the reforms during its summer recess.

“They can think about them over August and come back and act on them in September,” Mr. Bush said.

Later, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., in a briefing with reporters, said he doubted that the laborious congressional committee process would produce a bill quickly “even if they were to come back into session as full bodies next week.”

The NID will neither be a member of the president’s Cabinet nor operate from the White House, Mr. Card said, because Mr. Bush wanted to ensure that the director could avoid “undue pressure” from presidential staffers.

But the director would serve at the pleasure of the president after Senate confirmation. The NID would act as the president’s chief intelligence officer, taking over that duty from the director of the CIA.

In the other major change endorsed by the president, the national counterterrorism center “will become our government’s knowledge bank for information about known and suspected terrorists,” Mr. Bush said.

The center, which Mr. Bush can create unilaterally, will be responsible for preparing the president’s daily terrorism briefing, another duty currently handled by the CIA.

John L. Lehman, a Republican member of the bipartisan September 11 commission, said he was pleased that Mr. Bush decided to move quickly on creating an NID and a counterterrorism center.

“So far, so good,” Mr. Lehman said, adding that the NID can only be effective if the official has the power to change the “entrenched bureaucracy” of the intelligence community.

“Creating just a czar with coordinating power is not going to improve things at all,” Mr. Lehman said. “It really must have clear authority over hiring and firing and personnel policy protocols, over budgets and over security systems.”

Mr. Bush did not detail how much authority the NID would have, but Mr. Lehman said the commission has faith that those factors will be addressed.

“Certainly, there is nothing that the president said today that suggests these things are not going to happen,” Mr. Lehman said.

Both the panel’s chairman and vice chairman — Republican Thomas H. Kean and Democrat Lee H. Hamilton — also said they welcomed the president’s support for “two priority recommendations for the commission.”

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, applauded Mr. Bush’s “swift and decisive action to implement a number of the important recommendations made by the 9/11 commission.”

Miss Collins said her committee will examine the president’s proposals at a hearing today.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee — which oversees almost 85 percent of the intelligence budget — said Mr. Bush “demonstrated strong leadership” with yesterday’s proposals.

“The president’s announcement provides Congress a clear road map, which I predict will guide us as we legislate the parameters for these important new concepts,” Mr. Warner said.

In his press conference, Mr. Bush also suggested that Congress must reform itself, streamlining a committee oversight process that ends up wasting the time of those trying to direct the war on terror.

He pointed to the experiences of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who has testified in front of scores of different congressional committees 140 times.

“I mean, it seems like it’s one thing to testify and for there to be oversight,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s another thing to make sure that the people who are engaged in protecting America don’t spend all their time testifying.”

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