President George W. Bush has taken initial steps to overhaul the nation's intelligence-gathering system by embracing two key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. He has asked Congress to create the position of national intelligence director (NID) and has announced that he would by executive order create a national counterterrorism center and undertake measures to implement other commission recommendations.
Although Bush offered few details, he did say the NID would be appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and serve at the pleasure of the President as his principal intelligence adviser. Under Bush's concept, the NID would oversee and coordinate all domestic and foreign activities of the intelligence community. But the NID would not have budgetary or personnel control over the 15 agencies that now comprise the intelligence community, nor would the NID have operational responsibilities.
"Creating this position will require substantial revision of the 1947 National Security Act, and I look forward to working with the members of Congress to move ahead on this important reform," Bush said at a White House press briefing.
As Bush outlined the position, the NID would assume many of the responsibilities now held by the Central Intelligence Agency director. At present, the CIA director not only manages his agency but also oversees the activities of the intelligence community. When the NID is appointed, the CIA director would manage only his agency, with governmentwide coordination and oversight falling to the national director.
The 9/11 Commission had recommended that the position of national director and the counterterrorism center be placed in the executive office of the President. President Bush elected to do otherwise: The NID would have cabinet rank but would not be part of the White House.
As envisioned by Bush, the counterterrorism center would build on the analyses now being conducted by the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which was established in 2003 and resides at the CIA. But the new counterterrorism center would not be the responsibility of the CIA, and its director would report to the NID, not the CIA director.
In a carefully worded statement, Thomas H. Kean, chairman, and Lee H. Hamilton, vice chairman, of the 9/11 Commission, welcomed Bush's actions but cautioned that "the fate of these reform ideas turns vitally on the specifics." They also hailed Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry's (Mass.) "unequivocal endorsement of the commission's recommendations."
Kerry criticized Bush for not putting the NID in the White House and accused Bush of foot-dragging. "If the President had a sense of urgency about this director of intelligence ... he would call the Congress back and get the job done now."