The daily 5 o'clock meeting at CIA headquarters that for the past three years has coordinated tactical counterterrorism operations involving senior CIA, FBI, Pentagon and Homeland Security Department officials has been cut back by new CIA Director Porter J. Goss to three a week, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.
The sessions were initiated by former CIA director George J. Tenet because of the failures of coordination among intelligence agencies before Sept. 11, 2001. He used the sessions to push the agencies to carry out specific activities, whether at home or abroad. The meetings were continued by Tenet's former deputy, John E. McLaughlin, while he was acting director and initially by Goss.
Recently, however, Goss, a former House member and onetime CIA case officer, created "a different format," according to an administration official familiar with the program. Goss instead chairs a somewhat similar meeting with a smaller group of senior officials from the agencies, who brief him three mornings a week, the official said.
"They are still very much focused on terrorist issues," the official said. "If something exploded, [Goss] would get briefed right away."
Goss's change in the 5 p.m. meeting schedule is occurring at the same time as restructuring of the handling of terrorism intelligence by executive order and legislation triggered by the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations.
A former senior intelligence official said he believes Goss's sessions "lose the immediacy" of the Tenet's daily sessions. Meanwhile, the FBI and Pentagon are "beginning to eat into former CIA areas" as they carry out more of their own operations, he added.
Another major change is the result of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), created in August under a presidential executive order. It became operational Dec. 6. The center has absorbed personnel from the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), the CIA counterterrorism center and the FBI's counterterrorism center, making it the central agency for gathering and analyzing foreign and domestic terrorism intelligence and delivering it to the president, policymakers and others.
The NCTC, for example, now prepares the daily terrorist threat matrix, previously done by TTIC, which has been a major part of the terrorism section of the daily morning intelligence briefing given President Bush. Analysts from the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, Defense and other agencies work together as part of the NCTC in a building in Tysons Corner, putting together the matrix from the domestic and foreign threat information that pours into the center.
Under the executive order that created the NCTC, and the intelligence restructuring statute, the new organization can do "strategic planning" for counterterrorism operations but is barred from directing the execution of specific tactical intelligence activities. Those tasks are left to the CIA, FBI and Pentagon.
John Brennan, the former director of TTIC, is now the NCTC's acting director, appointed by Goss in his role as director of central intelligence. Brennan sat in on Tenet's 5 p.m. meetings and continues to attend the Goss sessions, according to an intelligence official.
Under the statute, the NCTC falls under the authority of the new director of national intelligence, yet to be named by Bush. The NCTC director also becomes a presidential appointment, confirmed by the Senate, with an added important function. By law, the NCTC director is to report directly to the president on "planning and progress of joint counterterrorism operations" other than intelligence operations, although he "may not direct the execution of counterterrorism operations."
What the new director does, under the law, is "conduct strategic operational planning for counterterrorism activities, integrating all instruments of national power, including diplomatic, financial, military, intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement activities within and among agencies."
The new director also will assign the operational roles to the CIA, FBI or Pentagon, although those agencies can raise objections to assignments with the National Security Council.
What is not covered by the law is which entity will carry out the daily coordination of counterterrorism operations once handled by the 5 p.m. meeting.
Looking backward, one former senior intelligence official described Tenet, who buried himself in the details of incoming terrorism information, as "an activist, barking orders at the agency reps around the table until everyone got the message."
"Goss views his role differently," a current administration official said.