WASHINGTON – President Bush and Congress must give a proposed national intelligence director (search) and counterterrorism center sufficient authority to overcome the intelligence community's turf battles, senators said Tuesday as Congress continued to explore the September 11 commission's (search) recommendations.
Bush is ready to create the position of national intelligence director, but some lawmakers wonder whether what he's proposed will have enough power to get the nation's 15 sometimes turf-conscious spy agencies working in concert.
Democrats have criticized Bush's rejection of the Sept. 11 commission's recommendation that a new national intelligence director control all intelligence budgets and have the authority to choose who would lead the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies. Bush also turned aside the commission's idea for placing both the counterterrorism center and the director within the White House.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (search), D-Conn., said at a hearing on creating the new agency that the White House recommendation for a new agency and its chief "appears to lack the powers that the commission wants it to have," particularly budgetary authority over the intelligence-gathering agencies.
"When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge," Lieberman said. As leader of "our nation's war against Islamic terrorism" the new intelligence director must have the authority to command all of the intelligence community, Lieberman said.
Any new counterterrorism directorate "must get what it needs, both in resources and in its place in the priorities of the agencies that collect intelligence," added Sen. Susan Collins (search), R-Maine, chair of the Senate Governmental Relations Committee.
Bush, in a Monday statement in the Rose Garden, announced his support for a national intelligence chief and a national center to plan counterterror operations in the United States and abroad. "Our goal is an integrated, unified national intelligence effort," he said.
The two proposals Bush embraced were the key recommendations of a bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
While Congress works on legislation to create the new intelligence director post, the president will tell the CIA director to tap all the authority he has under current law to manage all 15 agencies, a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.
The official would not speculate about who would be put in charge of carrying this out.
He said Bush might name acting CIA director John McLaughlin (search) to the job, and later nominate him or someone else to be America's first national intelligence director. The president also needs to fill the CIA director's slot by picking McLaughlin, who's been warming the seat since George Tenet resigned in June, or someone new.
"I expect he'll have more to say on that soon," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Homeland security has become a central theme in this year's presidential race. Bush's announcement showed his determination to keep what polls show is a substantial advantage over Democratic rival John Kerry on the issue of fighting terrorism.
The president said the new reforms he's proposing are in addition to steps the administration already has taken, such as refocusing the FBI on terror threats, creating the Homeland Security Department, setting up the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and working to ensure a "seamless spread of information throughout our government."
Kerry said Bush should have acted sooner.
He said Bush should summon Congress back into a special summer session to address the proposed changes, but Bush's advisers said lawmakers already were working on intelligence reform. "They can think about them over August and come back and act on them in September," Bush said.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, questioned Bush's decision, saying that "if the new director cannot control the budgets of intelligence agencies, this new position will be no more than window dressing."
Fran Townsend, who heads the office of counter-terrorism at the White House, said Tuesday that "if we'd made it a member of the Cabinet, I believe the administration would have been accused of politicizing it." She said the new intelligence chief under Bush would "integrate" the budgets of the various agencies.
Appearing on NBC's "Today" show, Townsend also said, "The Cabinet is the political body responsible for implementing the president's policy and that's the very reason for not having this person in the Cabinet."