Bush signs executive orders to reform U.S. intelligence
WASHINGTON – President Bush on Friday signed executive orders designed to strengthen the CIA director’s power over the nation’s intelligence agencies and create a national counterterrorism center, responding to election-year pressures to enact changes called for by the Sept. 11 commission.
Democratic critics questioned whether Bush’s proposed changes were too modest. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said Bush had been reluctant to act and still was not doing enough.
Bush signed four separate orders before embarking on a weekend of campaign stops leading up to the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday in New York. His press secretary, Scott McClellan, said the moves will “improve our ability to find, track and stop terrorists.”
Bush’s first order gives the CIA director additional authority on an interim basis to perform many of the functions of a proposed national intelligence director, who would have increased power to oversee all 15 of the nation’s intelligence agencies. White House officials said that includes a stronger hand to set budgets.
The CIA director currently oversees the nation’s intelligence agencies, but the recent debate has focused on long-standing limitations.
Another order establishes the national counterterrorism center, and a third sets guidelines for the sharing of intelligence among agencies. A fourth order establishes a presidential board on safeguarding Americans’ civil liberties, an area of concern as the government gives law enforcement agencies more authority to battle terrorists.
The two key recommendations of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks were the creation of a strong national intelligence director and a unifying national counterterrorism center to handle intelligence.
Since the release of the commission’s report last month, debate has centered on what powers the new intelligence director should have.
The commission said the CIA director’s job of running the agency should be separated from the position’s second responsibility of overseeing the intelligence community and said the new intelligence director must be given significant power over budgets and personnel. Yet, legal experts say the president has limited power to enact major structural changes without congressional action.
McClellan said Bush plans to work with Congress to enact a law to create the national intelligence director position and make sure that it comes with enough authority over spending and hiring and firing “so they can do the job and do it effectively.”
Bush’s executive order gives the director of central intelligence all the budget power allowed by the National Security Act of 1947, which established the nation’s intelligence structure, the White House said.
The order also gives the intelligence director the final say about priorities in disagreements with other powerful officials, such as the defense secretary, a senior White House official said. But he said the defense secretary and others could appeal the intelligence chief’s decisions.