June 29, 2005
President Bush, embracing nearly all of the recommendations of a blue-ribbon intelligence commission, said Wednesday he was creating a national security service within the FBI to specialize in intelligence as part of a shake-up of the nation's disparate spy agencies.
A fact sheet describing the White House's broad acceptance of the panel's suggestions said that three recommendations would be studied and that one unidentified recommendation -- which was classified -- was being rejected. The decisions come after a 90-day review led by the National Security Council's homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend.
Along with the list of changes being heeded, Bush also issued an executive order freezing assets of individuals or groups involved in activities related to the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
The changes being adopted include directing the Justice Department to consolidate its counterterrorism, espionage and intelligence units. Bush also will ask Congress to create a new assistant attorney general position to help centralize those operations.
The Justice Department and the FBI "have made substantial progress toward strengthening their national security capabilities and coordinating effectively with other elements of the government with related responsibilities, but further prompt action is necessary to meet challenges to the security of the United States," Bush wrote in a memo to intelligence community leaders.
In March, a nine-member commission led by Republican Judge Laurence Silberman and former Democratic Sen. Charles Robb put forward a scathing 600-page report on the intelligence community and its ability to understand and protect against the threat from weapons of mass destruction.
Bush asked for the Robb-Silberman review in early 2004 after it became clear that prewar intelligence on Iraq was flawed. After a 13-month investigation, the commission concluded the intelligence community was "dead wrong" in almost all of its prewar findings on Iraq's arsenal.
Bush also asked the commission to study the sweeping intelligence reform law that Congress passed in December, which created a new national intelligence director to oversee the 15 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.
One of the panel's recommendations being left for further review was one directing the director of national intelligence to hold accountable those organizations that contributed to the flawed assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. The administration said that the intelligence director was still reviewing the need for reforms "that may include greater DNI oversight and changes in organizational roles and responsibilities."
Among the 70 changes being accepted by the administration -- out of 74 recommended -- were:
* Forming a new National Counter Proliferation Center to coordinate the U.S. government's collection and analysis of intelligence on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The task is now performed by many national security agencies.
* Asking Congress to reform its oversight of the intelligence community, a controversial proposal that could provoke turf wars and other difficulties on Capitol Hill. "Absent changes by Congress, IC (intelligence community) reform efforts will be handicapped and experience difficulty in reaching the desired outcomes," the administration response read.
* Putting CIA Director Porter Goss in charge of all overseas human intelligence, or traditional spy work, done by government operatives.
* Proposing legislation that would extend the duration of electronic surveillance in cases involving foreign agents.
* Implementing new procedures for dissenting intelligence analysis to be allowed to float up to senior officials.
* Giving the intelligence director a staff of "mission managers" who will develop strategies for specific intelligence areas. As an example, the commission said the director could have a mission manager focused on a specific country, such as China.
It was left unclear what exactly National Intelligence Director John Negroponte's role would be in the president's morning intelligence briefing. The commission wanted him freed from the duty to give him more time to focus on the intelligence community's long-term priorities, which the White House said it supported without providing details.
The panel also had emphasized that the White House needed to put its full support behind Negroponte as he takes on the intelligence agencies' "almost perfect record of resisting external recommendations."
The commission's findings -- and the White House's acceptance of them -- follow numerous reforms already ordered by Congress, the White House and within government agencies themselves since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the botched Iraq intelligence estimates.
They also follow a number of bruising critiques of the CIA, FBI, Defense Department and other elements of the intelligence community. The Robb-Silberman commission's March report was the most recent from an independent panel.