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Will Intel Chief Have Any Teeth?

CIA, DIA, NSA, NRO, and FBI Seals over a silhouette of a spy
AP / CBS
President Bush is urging the creation of a national intelligence director, but some lawmakers wonder whether the post he's proposed will have enough power to get the nation's 15 sometimes turf-conscious spy agencies working in concert.

"All the institutions of our government must be fully prepared for a struggle against terror that will last into the future," Mr. Bush said Monday in the Rose Garden, where he 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."

The White House announcement immediately drew criticism from Democrats because the president rejected 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.

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

"In Washington, they pay attention to two things, your power over the budget and your power to hire and fire," said Tim Roemer, member of the commission and former congressman from Colorado. "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."

Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also questioned the president'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."

The president also turned aside the commission's idea for placing both the counterterrorism center and the director within the White House.

"I don't think that person ought to 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 ought to be in the White House, however."

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 Mr. Bush would "integrate" the budgets of the various agencies.

Appearing on NBC, 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," she said.

The two proposals Mr. Bush partially embraced were the key recommendations of a bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. On Tuesday, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will discuss the counterterrorism center and the House Government Reform Committee will hold hearings on how to reorganize executive branch agencies so they do a better job sharing information.

"If Congress has the will, I believe we could enact intelligence reform legislation before we recess for the elections so that changes are in place before the year is over," said Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. "That's an ambitious timetable. But I think it is justified, given that our country is under threat of attack."

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 Mr. Bush might name acting CIA director John McLaughlin 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. Mr. Bush's announcement showed his determination to keep what polls show is a substantial advantage over Democratic rival Sen. 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 says Mr. Bush should have acted sooner.

He said the president should summon Congress back into a special summer session to address the proposed changes, but Mr. 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," Mr. Bush said.

Asked on ABC about Kerry's criticism that Mr. Bush has moved too slowly, Townsend said, "I find Sen. Kerry's criticism disingenuous. The president acted immediately to begin reforms at 9/11 and even before 9/11 in terms of our strategy to combat terrorism."

Flynt Leverett, a former CIA senior analyst and National Security Council staffer at the Bush White House who is now at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Bush's decision reflects the fact that the Defense Department currently handles about 80 percent of the intelligence budget.

"I think it was clear that the price for getting (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld to agree to this — to buy off on this — was to basically make it clear that Rumsfeld wasn't going to suffer any diminution of his budgetary or operational authority on the intelligence community elements that are currently part of DOD," he said.

Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, insisted the national intelligence director would have "an awful lot of clout, an awful lot of power" even though he lacked the authority to set the budget for individual intelligence agencies.