Bush To Sign Intel Reform Bill

President Bush makes closing remarks at the White House Conference on the Economy: Financial Challenges for Today and Tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004, at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington. AP

President Bush is signing into law the largest overhaul of U.S. intelligence gathering in 50 years, hoping to improve the spy network that failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

The 563-page bill, which endured a tortured path to congressional passage, also aims to tighten borders and aviation security. The new law will establish a new director of national intelligence to supervise the nation's 15 military and civilian spy agencies, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Peter Maer. The measure also starts a new national counter-terror center. Backers hope it will streamline cooperation among those agencies.

The new structure was designed to help the nation's 15 intelligence agencies work together to protect the country from attacks like the ones that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Sept. 11 Commission, in its July report, said disharmony among the intelligence agencies contributed to the inability of government officials to prevent the attacks. The government failed to recognize the danger posed by al Qaeda and was ill-prepared to respond to the terrorist threat, the report concluded.

Commission members and families of attack victims lobbied persistently for the legislation through the summer political conventions, the election and a post-election lame duck session of Congress.

Some of the president's Republican allies are still angry that some immigration measures were left out, reports Maer. They plan to push for the tougher controls next year.

Mr. Bush was criticized for not engaging aggressively enough with members of his own party to break the impasse. Pundits questioned what that meant for the president's ability to gain approval from a Republican-controlled Congress for his ambitious second-term agenda. But in the final days, he and Vice President Dick Cheney pushed hard for the legislation, and both the House and Senate passed it overwhelmingly.

Just as the president changed his mind on supporting the creation of a Homeland Security Department and creation of the independent Sept. 11 Commission, it took him a while to endorse the commission's strong recommendation that any new director of national intelligence have full budget-making control, necessary to wield true power in Washington. Mr. Bush at first rejected that idea but later supported it.

The new director position was one of the bill's most controversial aspects. Although the legislation gives the new director strong budget authority, its language is complex enough that there could be continued debate over the exact extent of the director's power.

Some names that have been mentioned for the post include CIA Director Porter 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.

The new law 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 measure is the biggest change to U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis since the creation of the CIA after World War II to deal with the newly emerging Cold War.
  • Jaime Holguin

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