Bush Calls for New Intelligence Director
President Bush on Monday endorsed creation of a national intelligence czar and counterterrorism center – his first steps in revamping the nation’s intelligence-gathering system to help prevent a repeat of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “We are a nation in danger,” Bush said as he announced his position during an appearance with top administration national security figures in the White House Rose Garden. Bush thus embraced, with some changes, two key recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, which outlined lapses in intelligence that left America vulnerable to the attacks.
Homeland security has taken center stage on the presidential campaign with both Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry dueling over their national security credentials.
Kerry, who has given a blanket endorsement to all the commission’s recommendations, applauded Bush for embracing some commission proposals. But he said the president wasn’t moving with sufficient urgency. “The time to act is now, not later,” the senator declared, saying Bush should call Congress back from its summer recess to begin working on the changes.
Considering that the report has been out ten days and that making this announcement last week would have been roundly criticized for trying to overshadow the Democratic National Convention, it’s unclear how the president could have reacted more swiftly. Now, granted, there was nothing preventing him from doing this without waiting for the Commission’s report but that, too, would have been criticized by the Kerry camp.
The bipartisan panel’s most overarching recommendations in a 567-page report were for creation of a counterterrorism center, which the commission envisions as a joint operational planning and intelligence center staffed by personnel from all the spy agencies, and a national intelligence czar. The chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton have insisted that the center and the national intelligence director position be placed in the executive office of the president to give the White House clout in dealing with all intelligence agencies. Bush said he wants them outside the White House. “I don’t think the person should be a member of my Cabinet,” he said. “I will hire the person and I can fire the person. … I don’t think that the office should be in the White House, however, I think it should be a stand-alone group to better coordinate.”
Kerry criticized the president for ignoring the panel’s recommendation to put the director in the White House. “You give greater power and leverage to the person who is the national director if they are seen as speaking directly for the president within the White House,” Kerry said. “You also coordinate more effectively with the other agencies that you need to coordinate in order to summon the greatest possible response to protect Americans.”
I’m rather agnostic on the issue of a DNI, let alone whether it’s a cabinet post or where his office is located. Given that my interest in the issue is leaps and bounds more than that of the average undecided voter, my strong guess is this narrow difference will have approximately zero impact on the campaign.