WASHINGTON – Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts on Monday defended his plan to dismantle the CIA (search) and reorganize Pentagon and other intelligence agencies under a powerful national intelligence director with vast control over budgets and personnel.
Roberts, R-Kan., sent shockwaves through official Washington on Sunday with what many would call a radical idea — tearing down the existing intelligence structure and starting over.
On Monday, Roberts said that while changes in the structure of the intelligence community are needed, charges that he is trying to eliminate the CIA are "incorrect."
"Everybody at the CIA would work in the same jobs ... they will all [continue] to do the important jobs they're doing," Roberts said. "We realign them, they get more authority and they report to a different person," but that's not doing away with the CIA.
Roberts' plan does, however, make major changes to the current intelligence community. The Pentagon would lose operational control of the National Security Agency's (search) international listening posts — the National Reconnaissance Office's spy satellites and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The three major directorates of the CIA would be broken apart and reassembled.
View Senator Roberts' 9/11 National Security Protection Act Flowchart (pdf).
The new agency would be called the National Intelligence Service, controlled by the NID, the national intelligence director. Beneath the NID would be four assistant NIDs. Their roles would be divided into intelligence collection, analysis, research and development, and tactical intelligence needs of the military.
The assistant director of collection would have direct control over FBI (search) counterintelligence and counterterrorism units, although they would continue within the FBI administratively and would still be subject to the attorney general's guidelines.
The NID would also have effective budgetary control of other federal intelligence-gathering units at the Departments of Treasury, Energy, Homeland Security and the State Department, though day-to-day operations would continue under those agencies' umbrellas.
Roberts' proposal received a mostly chilly reception on and off Capitol Hill. Former CIA director George Tenet (search) expressed his disapproval on Monday.
"A proposal such as this would damage U.S. national security rather than improve it," Tenet said in a statement.
Last week, acting CIA Director John McLaughlin (search), a career agency employee, urged Congress to move carefully and argued there had been dramatic improvement since Sept. 11 in the sharing of information by intelligence agencies.
Intelligence officials, speaking anonymously because of the political sensitivity, called the plan a step back from greater inter-agency cooperation. One said that rather than eliminating barriers between agencies, "it smashes them apart."
"We thank Sen. Roberts for his response to our request for input on these issues and value the recommendations as we draft legislation to reorganize our country's intelligence agencies, with the ultimate goal of strengthening the intelligence system to make our country safer," wrote Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., lead members of the Senate Government Reform Committee, which is charged with developing many of the government's intelligence reforms.
Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., ranking members of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, respectively, both remained skeptical of an overhaul while criticizing Roberts for not informing them of his proposal before its release.
"Senator Roberts did not afford me or any Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee an opportunity to work with him in drafting the proposal," Rockefeller said in a statement released Sunday. "Senator Roberts' proposal departs significantly from the 9/11 commission's blueprint for reform."
Roberts said Monday that Democrats on his committee had been provided the language of his bill last Friday. He added that he spoke with both Sens. Rockefeller and Levin prior to his appearance on the Sunday morning news show where he announced his idea, and described the conversations as "meaningful dialogue" about the plan and his intention to outline it on Sunday.
He added that he also made his bill available to members of his committee, the White House, the Sept. 11 commissioners, the Government Affairs and Armed Services committees and families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
A senior Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee aide told FOX News that the Democratic staff director for the committee was given an organizational chart of the plan on Friday that indicated the CIA would be separated into three parts, and the new NID would be given both budgetary and personnel, or "tasking," authority.
Asked about the rush to announce it on Sunday, Roberts said, "Time is of the essence" and stressed the importance of getting a bill passed before entering a lame-duck session after the November election.
"Thirty-eight attempts have been made to reform the intelligence community ... and 38 attempts have failed. We cannot afford to fail," he said. Roberts also said that while he regrets that some members of his committee, including ranking member Rockefeller, feel they were not adequately consulted, he believes the bill will generate bipartisan support once they "understand we are not terminating the CIA ... we are strengthening it."
Kerry campaign officials said the Roberts plan mirrors some of the ideas endorsed by their candidate.
Rep. Jane Harman (search), D-Calif., ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said Roberts called her to discuss the measure, but she had not yet seen the proposal.
"The only way to fix our broken intelligence system is to move forward on a bipartisan basis, and it is welcome news that most Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee favor major structural reform," Harman said. "The best legislative vehicle is one that implements the bipartisan 9/11 commission's recommendations."
The Sept. 11 commission first proposed a new national intelligence director who would be in charge of coordinating 15 intelligence offices in the executive branch.
Roberts claims to have the support of eight Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., one of those members, said Monday Roberts has taken action that others have been slow to do.
"I have worked closely with Chairman Roberts as we examine how to reform the intelligence community's coordination and overcome bureaucratic barriers," said Sen. Bond. "This legislation is a good step as we attempt to fix this system so we can better protect Americans here and abroad."
One Republican not in support is Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, who said he has concerns about taking assets away from the Pentagon during a time of war.
After a meeting with his national security team at the ranch in Crawford, where it is widely believed revamping intelligence was a topic of discussion, President Bush deflected questions about the Roberts plan.
"We'll take a look at it and determine whether or not it works or not. But there is going to be a lot of other ideas too as this debate goes forward," Bush said.
As many as five or six plans could be offered up on Capitol Hill and the White House could make a pre-emptive strike, making many changes through Executive Order (search). The intelligence community has not experienced major structural reorganization since 1947, when the Soviet Union was the predominant threat and the Defense Department was born.
"No one agency, no matter how distinguished its history, is more important than U.S. national security," Roberts said in a written statement on Monday.
Fox News' Brian Wilson, Julie Asher, Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.