Friday, December 17, 2004

President Bush yesterday signed into law sweeping legislation to overhaul the U.S. intelligence community and to create a new director of national intelligence to coordinate efforts to prevent another terrorist attack like September 11.

“Under this new law, our vast intelligence enterprise will become more unified, coordinated and effective,” the president said in a ceremony that included members of Congress and September 11 victims’ families.

“It will enable us to better do our duty, which is to protect the American people,” he said. “The key lesson of September 11, 2001, is that America’s intelligence agencies must work together as a single unified enterprise.”

The bill signing marked the first time the nation’s intelligence capabilities have been reformed since President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, which created the CIA.

The new intelligence director, recommended by the September 11 commission that investigated the causes of the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 people, will oversee 15 federal intelligence agencies, and will be the principal intelligence adviser to the president.

The legislation creates a national counterterrorism center to plan and help oversee security operations, and includes a host of anti-terrorism provisions, such as letting officials wiretap “lone wolf” terrorists and improving airline baggage screening procedures.

It also increases the number of full-time border patrol agents by 2,000 per year for five years and imposes new federal standards on information that driver’s licenses must contain.

“The many reforms in this act have a single goal: to ensure that the people in government responsible for defending America have the best possible information to make the best possible decisions,” the president said. “America in this new century again faces new threats. Instead of massed armies, we face stateless networks. We face killers who hide in our own cities. We must confront deadly technologies.”

Many of the law’s features resulted from the September 11 commission, which found “deep institutional failings” and missed opportunities to thwart the hijackings by al Qaeda operatives, who crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Congressional leaders, some of whom attended the bill-signing ceremony praised the new law, which passed both congressional chambers after a rancorous debate.

“Bringing together 15 agencies under one command structure will reduce the chance that critical clues about the terrorists will fall through the cracks, as they did on 9/11,” said California Rep. Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Legislation alone won’t make us safer. We also need effective leadership. The president should pick a strong manager who will speak truth to power,” said Mrs. Harman, one of the bill’s chief negotiators.

Mr. Bush was joined at the signing ceremony by CIA Director Porter Goss, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist,Tennessee Republican; House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican; Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat; and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, whom Mr. Bush has nominated to replace Colin L. Powell as secretary of state.

The ceremony was held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, where U.S. and European leaders formally announced the NATO military alliance to oppose Soviet aggression shortly after the end of World War II.

When Congress approved the reforms two weeks ago, some senators complained that the reforms did not go far enough. They questioned whether the new intelligence director would have sufficient power and independence from the White House to avoid the intelligence failures cited by the commission.

Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican and a chairman of the commission, has been mentioned as a candidate for the new position, as well as Adm. William Studeman, a former CIA director and a member of a commission investigating failures in intelligence used to justify the Iraq war.

Others include: Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, head of the National Security Agency; Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend.

Mr. Bush said the new director “will have the authority to order the collection of new intelligence, to ensure the sharing of information among agencies, and to establish common standards for the intelligence community’s personnel.”

The White House said no decision has been made about who will fill the new position.

“There’s a window of some six months where many of these provisions will be implemented,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said, adding, “We will move as quickly as possible to put in place a director of national intelligence.”

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