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Bush Backs Intel Czar

President Bush is ready to support recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission report.
CBS
President Bush on Monday endorsed creation of a national intelligence czar and counterterrorism center — his first steps to revamp the nation's intelligence-gathering system since the report of the Sept. 11 commission.

Mr. Bush thus embraced, with some changes, two key recommendations of the commission, which outlined lapses in intelligence that left America vulnerable to the attacks.

"We are a nation in danger," Mr. Bush said as he announced his position during an appearance with top administration national security figures in the White House Rose Garden.

The bipartisan Sept. 11 panel's most overarching recommendations in a 567-page report were for creation of a counterterrorism center, which the commission envisions as a joint operational planning and intelligence center staffed by personnel from all the spy agencies, and a national intelligence czar.

The chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton have insisted that the center and the national intelligence director position be placed in the executive office of the president to give the White House clout in dealing with all the nation's intelligence agencies. Mr. Bush said he wants them set up outside the White House.

"I don't think the person should be a member of my Cabinet," Mr. Bush said. "I will hire the person and I can fire the person. ... I don't think that the office should be in the White House, however, I think it should be a stand-alone group to better coordinate."

But critics contend without complete budgetary control, the new chief would have little real clout, CBS Correspondent Thalia Assuras reports.

Says Tim Roemer, member of the 9/11 Commission, "In Washington, they pay attention to two things, your power over the budget and your power to hire and fire. If you don't have those things, then you are ineffectual, and you're a czar, and you can't get things done in this town."

Andy Card, a White House aide, rejected the criticism saying, "I think that the President has clearly made a decision that would allow for the national intelligence director to have an awful lot of clout, an awful lot of power."

Intelligence reforms to help thwart a repeat of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 took on special urgency with the announcement Sunday by authorities that they had uncovered a plot by the al Qaeda terror network to attack five prominent financial institutions in New York City, Washington and Newark, N.J.

"The work of security in this vast nation is not done," the president said. "The elevation of the threat level in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., is a serious reminder — a solemn reminder — of the threat we continue to face."

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, who has given a blanket endorsement to all the commission's recommendations, has accused the administration of dragging its feet on intelligence reform.

The new terror alert also had an impact today on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry out on the campaign trail in Grand Rapids on Monday, CBS Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

Re-adjusting his plans in the battleground state of Michigan and shifting his message from jobs to terror, Kerry said Congress should interrupt its recess to implement the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.

Said Kerry, "September 11, 2002, came and went. September 11, 2003, came and went. September 11, 2004, is almost here, and only finally are we doing some of the things some of us have been calling for all that period of time."

He added, "If we're at war and it's so urgent, we shouldn't be waiting. We ought to get Congress back and get the job done right now and make America safer."

With today's CBS news poll showing a big advantage for President Bush on the handling of terrorism — Bush at 41 percent, and Kerry at 28 percent — Kerry reminded voters he'd called for an intelligence director months ago.

Polling numbers like that may explain why Kerry took the debate a step further today, blaming the President for policies that actually encourage the recruitment of terrorists.

He said, "The policies of the administration, I believe and others believe very deeply, have resulted in an increase of animosity and anger focused on the United States Of America. The schools that are teaching terror, the people that are training terror, are using our actions as a means of recruitment."