New powers for the CIA director and creation of a national counterterrorism center -- both the products of executive orders signed last week by President Bush -- stop short in many ways from achieving the type of intelligence reorganization urged by the Sept. 11 commission and proposed by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and others on Capitol Hill.
Both the commission's report and Roberts's bill call for a new national counterterrorism center, but the version of that office created by Bush's directive has significantly less authority -- at least in part because giving it greater powers cannot be done without legislation.
Under Bush's order, the national counterterrorism center will be the primary organization for analyzing and integrating intelligence about terrorism and counterterrorism, "excepting purely domestic counterterrorism information." That means the center will not have authority to direct covert counterterrorism operations abroad and at home -- one of the central recommendations of the commission and part of the legislation proposed by Roberts, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Instead, the center will do "operational planning" and "assign operational responsibilities" to the CIA, FBI and the Pentagon, one of the president's orders says, but "the center shall not direct the execution of operations." The center will operate temporarily under the authority of the CIA director in his capacity as director of central intelligence but eventually will be under the national intelligence director, if that post is created by legislation.
Bush's orders have been characterized by White House officials as interim steps to strengthen intelligence gathering while Congress and the administration continue discussing more far-reaching reorganizations that could happen only by legislation. The Bush administration has been under pressure to act on proposals to reorganize the U.S. intelligence community since the Sept. 11 commission issued its report, and Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry has challenged the president to enact its recommendations.
The counterterrorism center established by Bush's order will also interact with other parts of the administration differently than the type of center urged by the commission. The panel urged that the new center advise the president directly on all counterterrorism issues. The center created by Bush will instead give the president, vice president and other senior Cabinet members routine reports on terrorism threats, which until now have been prepared by the CIA and presented daily during the morning national security briefing.
Some strategic functions of the National Security Council's Counterterrorism Security Group, once run out of the Clinton and Bush White Houses by Richard A. Clarke, will be done by the national counterterrorism center. These include the day-to-day threat monitoring and preparation of responses that involve all government agencies.
One main point of contention in the intelligence reform debate has been whether to give a new national director control over the budgets and personnel of the 15 government agencies that form the intelligence community.
Bush's executive order giving more authority to the CIA director does not go as far down that road as would the Sept. 11 commission or several bills introduced in Congress. Bush has nominated Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) to be director of central intelligence, a position currently held by acting director John E. McLaughlin.
Under the Bush plan, the director of central intelligence will get direct budgetary authority over the National Foreign Intelligence Program, which involves about 70 percent of the $40 billion intelligence budget. The remaining 30 percent covers the Joint Military Intelligence Program and the Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities, which are under the control of the secretary of defense.
The DCI is given authority to "participate" in the defense secretary's development of budgets for those Pentagon intelligence programs. When it comes to moving money among programs in those areas, the DCI was given the power to "monitor and consult" and "advise" the defense secretary.
The Defense Department, primarily through its intelligence-collection agencies, supplies 68 percent of the personnel in the NFIP program, and overall the Pentagon supplies 83 percent of the personnel in the U.S. intelligence community, Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. Cambone described the relationship between the DCI and defense secretary as "a partnership."
"It was designed that way by the Congress and by presidents and DCIs and SecDefs [secretaries of defense] in the past to make sure it is a partnership, so that no one has sole authority or all of the authority," Cambone added.
On personnel questions, the executive orders do not give the CIA director full hiring and firing power across the intelligence community, but they do let him set standards for training, education and career development in U.S. intelligence agencies. Bush also ordered that the CIA director concur in intelligence appointments by the secretary of defense.
Bush gave the DCI authority to bring about a number of recommendations by the Sept. 11 commission, including the establishment of a standard system for handling classified information and accessing it. Today each intelligence agency has a security system and counterintelligence program to protect its secrets.
A senior congressional aide said this week that the executive orders were attempts to go as far as possible in ways that did not require approval by Congress, which is continuing to hold hearings on intelligence reform legislation.
In many ways, he said, the orders essentially expand on authority that the DCI already has to coordinate intelligence activities across the government. The orders, he said, "seem to have the quality of, 'This time, we really mean it,' " he said. "They did the best they could."