Bush unveils intelligence plan, falls short of September 11 panel

4.45pm

WASHINGTON - President George W Bush has submitted a plan to the US Congress that gives a new national intelligence director authority over much of the intelligence community, but not the full powers sought by the September 11 commission and key lawmakers, documents show.

Bush, in a rare move, submitted his own legislation to key congressional committees, hoping to put his stamp on revamping US spy agencies before the November 2 presidential election.

Under Bush's plan, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, the national intelligence director would have the authority to "develop and determine" the budget for the National Foreign Intelligence Programme, which constitutes more than half of the US$40 billion ($61.33 billion) intelligence budget.

But it said the intelligence director would do so based on the proposals of the individual intelligence agencies and after "obtaining the advice" of the defence secretary and other members of the cabinet.

Critics said that fell short of Bush's promise to give a national intelligence director "full budgetary authority." The defence secretary could wield substantial influence over the budget process under the legislation.

Funding would also continue to flow through the defence Department so the White House can keep the overall intelligence budget classified, congressional aides briefed on Bush's plan said.

While the intelligence director would have the authority to "transfer or reprogram" funds within the National Foreign Intelligence Programme, the director would first have to obtain the approval of the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget as well as consult with department heads.

"The president wants intelligence reform to be acted on and this is a good faith effort to work with the Congress in a bipartisan fashion to achieve those changes," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said of the legislation.

Critics said Bush's proposal does not go as far as the September 11 commission had recommended, and leaves out key provisions of intelligence reform legislation introduced by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

Some congressional aides said the White House proposal was also too vaguely worded, pointing to a provision that says the new director would provide "guidance" -- rather than have control -- over individual agency budgets.

"It's leaps and bounds from where they were two months ago," a senior congressional aide, who asked not to be identified, said of Bush and his aides. "But it's still weaker" than what the commission and lawmakers proposed.

Bush initially opposed creation of the September 11 commission and Democrats have accused him of dragging his feet in implementing its major recommendations -- a charge the White House denies.

Critics complain that the Bush's proposal does not give the national intelligence director budget authority beyond the National Foreign Intelligence Programme, as proposed by the September 11 commission and key lawmakers.

The White House also balked at granting the new director sweeping powers to hire and fire top intelligence officials. The White House said the director would play a role in the selection process and that agencies would need the director's "concurrence" for key appointments.

Critics say Bush's legislative proposal also stops short of giving the national intelligence director as much independence from the CIA director as the September 11 commission proposed.

They said Bush's proposal did not include language to implement proposed FBI and CIA reforms, and did not include creation of the national intelligence centres proposed by the September 11 commission. The commission envisioned creating centres that would pool data from across the intelligence community on topics of high priority, such as weapons of mass destruction.

Bush's plan does, however, include several provisions giving the defence secretary a role. It specifically calls for the new director to ensure that funding for intelligence programmes within the defence Department are "adequate to satisfy the intelligence needs of the Department of defence."

Congressional aides said the provisions appeared to be a concession to defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who lobbied against creating a national intelligence czar with sweeping budget powers across the intelligence community.

- REUTERS


Herald Feature: September 11

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