Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry yesterday proposed at least doubling the number of American spies overseas and building a separate domestic intelligence capability within the FBI, rather than a new independent domestic spy agency that had been proposed by his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.).
The Kerry campaign rolled out several other changes to the intelligence community, including the creation of a Cabinet-level national director of intelligence, but described the proposals in broad terms without specifics.
Speaking to reporters at his Washington campaign headquarters, the Massachusetts senator criticized President Bush for failing to take responsibility for a series of intelligence failures, including Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and faulty prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
"As commander in chief, the president of the United States must take responsibility for what happens on his or her watch," said Kerry, who served six years on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Nearly three years since the al Qaeda attacks, "this president has not taken action sufficient to fix the intelligence problems that plague us," he said.
Asked yesterday whether he would have voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq if he had known the weakness of the prewar intelligence, outlined in a Senate intelligence committee report last week, Kerry said he would not answer a hypothetical question. "My goal is not to find a way to go to war," he said. "My goal will be to find a way to avoid going to war, not create an atmosphere of pressure."
Campaign aides declined to say what level of funding or staff a Kerry administration would propose for the CIA's clandestine service, saying that such figures are classified.
Even before Sept. 11, CIA Director George J. Tenet had begun increasing the number of operatives being brought into the agency. After the attacks, the CIA embarked on one of its greatest recruiting drives. Tenet asked for a 70 percent increase in the number of new spies and a 25 percent increase in the Directorate of Operations, the agency's clandestine service, which manages the agency's counterterrorism center, espionage and paramilitary operations. The increases have been much larger than 25 percent, government officials say.
Kerry rejected a plan outlined earlier this year by Edwards, who currently serves on the Senate intelligence panel, to create a British-style domestic intelligence agency. Instead, Kerry wants to accelerate a plan proposed by FBI Director Robert H. Mueller III to create a separate professional track for domestic intelligence training and operations within the FBI.
Supporters of the Edwards approach believe the FBI will never be able to transform itself from an institution that collects information for criminal prosecutions to one that collects intelligence on terrorist networks with the primary goal of thwarting plots against U.S. interests. Critics say a domestic spy agency would not be compatible with traditional U.S. privacy concerns.
Kerry's other proposals include creating a Cabinet-level director of national intelligence post to coordinate the budget, operations and strategy of the 15 U.S. intelligence departments and agencies. Such a position is opposed by the administration but favored by a long line of independent panels that have studied reform, including one headed by former White House national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who served under President George H.W. Bush.
To better coordinate operations and information sharing, Kerry would create interagency task forces organized around subjects and targets such as terrorism, proliferation or particular hostile countries.
Speaking later in the day to members of the American Federation of Teachers, Kerry criticized Bush's education policies, accusing the president of underfunding programs for schools, teachers and students. "Millions of children have been left behind," Kerry said. "Politicians who talk about valuing morality and personal responsibility ought to start by keeping their own promises."
Kerry was most critical of Bush for failing to "fully fund" the No Child Left Behind education law, which established new accountability standards and penalties for schools that fail to meet them. Still, Bush has greatly increased education spending, and Republicans say there is ample money for states to implement the changes.
Kerry, who voted for the No Child Left Behind law, said he would provide several billion dollars annually in additional funding and would allow more leeway to schools struggling to meet the standards.
Kerry touted his plan to recruit and train 500,000 new teachers over the next four years at a cost of $30 billion, and he vowed to push for better teacher salaries. "Pay for teachers is a national disgrace," he said. Kerry also outlined plans to expand after-school programs and to provide incentives to lower college tuition.
Kerry says he would finance these programs by repealing the Bush tax cuts for people making more than $200,000. Republicans say he is overpromising because the tax cut repeal is not big enough to finance all of his proposals.
Edwards spent yesterday in Los Angeles, dropping by a farmers market to greet voters and attending a fundraiser at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. Last night, he spoke at a dinner hosted by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, where he talked about Kerry's proposals to help working families and to reform immigration policies. The group, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, is in the midst of a massive voter registration drive for the 2004 election.
Edwards likened his bootstraps story -- growing up in a working-class family in Robbins, N.C., to become a wealthy man and a candidate for the second-highest office in the country -- to the quest of many immigrant families.
"In Robbins, I learned about hard work, responsibility, faith and family. . . . And today those values are what still bring families to Robbins -- the only thing that's changed is the town's now 50 percent Latino," he said. "I have lived the American dream, and when John Kerry is our president more people will, too."
He said Kerry's proposals for health care reform, job creation and college tuition assistance would help immigrant families move into the middle class.
Staff writer Vanessa Williams in Los Angeles contributed to this report.