Bush Unveils Spy Guidelines, Angering House Overseers
Friday, August 1, 2008
The Bush administration unveiled new operating guidelines for the nation's intelligence community yesterday in a move that boosted the authority of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) while triggering protests from lawmakers who complained that they weren't properly consulted.
The changes affirmed the DNI's role as head of the 16 U.S. spy agencies and expanded its power to set priorities and coordinate the sharing of intelligence. The DNI also was given an expanded role in foreign intelligence collection and in the hiring and firing of senior intelligence officials.
The changes were part of a long-awaited overhaul of Executive Order 12333, a Reagan-era document that establishes the powers and responsibilities of U.S. intelligence services. Most of the revisions merely reflect changes already in place since the DNI was established by Congress three years ago, partly as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Although the revamped order had been in the works for a year, its formal unveiling prompted a rare revolt from congressional Republicans, some of whom walked out on Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell during a morning briefing. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, led several GOP colleagues to the exit after complaining that the administration had made the changes secretly without consulting with congressional overseers -- part of a pattern dating to the beginning of the Bush presidency, Hoekstra said.
"Given the impact that this order will have on America's intelligence community, and this committee's responsibility to oversee intelligence activities, this cannot be seen as anything other than an attempt to undercut congressional oversight," Hoekstra said in a statement afterward.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), the committee chairman, raised similar objections. "We were only shown the document after it was complete and on its way to the president for his signature," he said.
Administration officials denied that they had deliberately kept Congress in the dark.
"We've been in a conversation with Congress and the American people about the structure of the intelligence community since the fall of 2004," a senior administration official told reporters during a background briefing unveiling the changes.
The revamped order specifically places the DNI in charge of setting priorities for the 16 spy agencies as well as issuing guidelines on how intelligence is collected, analyzed and shared.
It calls on intelligence agencies to use "all reasonable and lawful means" to safeguard U.S. citizens and reaffirms the nation's "long-standing commitment to protecting civil liberties," the administration official said.
Left essentially unchanged is the prohibition of assassinating foreign leaders, as well as long-standing restrictions on human experimentation.
The document asserts that the intelligence agencies will "maintain or strengthen privacy and civil liberty protections."