President signs overhaul of U.S. spy operations
WASHINGTON – President Bush on Friday signed the largest overhaul of U.S. intelligence-gathering in a half century, aiming to transform a system designed for Cold War threats so it can deal effectively with the post-Sept. 11 scourge of terrorism.
“Instead of massed armies, we face stateless networks. We face killers who hide in our own cities,” Bush said in a somber ceremony in an ornate Commerce Department auditorium where the treaty creating NATO was signed. “To inflict great harm on our country, America’s enemies need to be only right once. Our intelligence and law enforcement professionals in our government must be right every single time.”
The new law creates a national intelligence center and a powerful new position of national intelligence director to oversee the nation’s 15 separate intelligence agencies.
Bush sat at a small desk adorned with a “Protecting America” placard to sign the legislation that endured a difficult, monthslong path to passage. The president was flanked by CIA Director Porter Goss, FBI Director Robert Mueller, several members of Congress involved in the legislation and the co-chairs of the independent commission whose findings about the Sept. 11 attacks were the impetus for the bill and who lobbied tirelessly for its approval.
Not on stage but in the audience were several relatives of people who died in the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and a Pennsylvania field. Families of some attack victims were also central to the bill’s passage, walking the halls of Congress with pictures of loved ones in hand and persistently pressing sometimes-reluctant lawmakers.
The next step is for Bush to choose someone to fill the new post of director of national intelligence. Potential candidates include Goss; Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, the head of the National Security Agency; Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend.
Establishing such an intelligence chief was a principal recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission. It also was one of the legislation’s most controversial provisions as lawmakers tangled over the extent of the director’s budget authority and how the person would work with the military.
But Bush gave a clear job description, saying the new DNI would be the “principle adviser to the president on intelligence matters” and making plain that the director could move intelligence assets around the globe as needed to keep an eye on terrorist groups like al-Qaida.
The president also made a point of saying the intelligence director would have complete control over spending – Washington’s best indicator of power – by being responsible for both determining the intelligence agencies’ annual budgets and directing how the funds are spent. That was an idea, like the creation of the Sept. 11 commission itself and the Department of Homeland Security, that Bush initially opposed before changing his mind and accepting it.
Under the legislation, the CIA remains in charge of collecting human intelligence and analyzing all intelligence gathered. But the new law puts the DNI over the CIA, along with all 15 of the nation’s military and civilian intelligence agencies to make sure those sometimes disparate interests work together to predict and prevent future attacks.
It also includes a host of anti-terrorism provisions, such as letting officials wiretap “lone wolf” terrorists and improving airline baggage screening procedures. It 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,” Bush said.
The new law makes the most far-reaching changes to U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis in nearly 60 years, since the CIA, Department of Defense and National Security Council were created as the Cold War emerged in the wake of World War II.
The Sept. 11 commission, said in its July report that the intelligence operation left over from the Cold War era wasn’t effective against such new threats. Disharmony among the intelligence agencies and the failure to fully recognize the danger posed by al-Qaida contributed to the government’s inability to thwart the attacks, the report said.