President Bush granted the new national intelligence chief expanded power over the FBI on Wednesday and ordered dozens of other spy agency changes as the White House heeded a presidential commission that condemned the intelligence community for failures in Iraq and elsewhere.
But almost as soon as the details were unveiled, the White House was defending itself against suggestions that the moves were simply adding more bureaucracy without making changes that could have prevented misjudgments like those made on Iraq.
“It’s an unfair characterization to say it’s simply a restructuring,” said Bush’s homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, who led the 90-day review of the recommendations from the president’s commission on weapons of mass destruction. “It’s a fundamental strengthening of our intelligence capabilities.”
The White House said it endorsed 70 of the 74 recommendations from the commission, which was led by Republican Judge Laurence Silberman and former Democratic Sen. Charles Robb and conducted a yearlong review of the 15 intelligence agencies. Bush formed the commission under pressure after the top U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq resigned and started a firestorm of controversy over the accuracy of the prewar Iraq intelligence.
In its scathing 600-page report released in March, the commission called the spy community “dead wrong on almost all of its prewar judgments” about Iraq’s weapons.
Robb called the White House’s broad acceptance of the commission’s proposals “truly extraordinary.”
Among the most significant changes the White House offered Wednesday, the Justice Department will be directed _ with congressional approval _ to consolidate its counterterrorism, espionage and intelligence units under one new assistant attorney general for national security.
The White House ordered the creation of a National Security Service inside the FBI. And Bush sought to strengthen the hand of the new national intelligence director over the FBI, giving him expanded budget and management powers over the bureau.
In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union said the FBI’s new security service would lead to an “erosion of constitutional protections against law enforcement actions.”
But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, “Every law enforcement official within the FBI is going to remain under the supervision of the FBI director and, ultimately, the attorney general.”
The White House will also have the national intelligence director, John Negroponte, establish a National Counter-Proliferation Center that will coordinate the U.S. government’s collection and analysis of intelligence on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons _ a task now performed by many national security agencies.
Negroponte’s top deputy, Gen. Michael Hayden, said the center would only have 50 to 100 employees, thereby avoiding some insiders’ worries of “brain drain” as new offices tap into existing ones.
A number of Bush administration critics welcomed the reforms. President Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, called the changes to Negroponte’s authority over the Justice Department and the counterproliferation center “very positive.”
“All of this is moving boxes to some degree,” said Berger. “I do think that in this case organization is important. … The real test is how it is implemented.”
While the White House portrayed the changes as a near universal endorsement of the commission’s recommendations, some suggestions were not completely followed.
For instance, the commission said Negroponte should not be part of the president’s morning intelligence briefing. But Hayden said he or Negroponte still attend the secretive daily sessions.
In other moves, the White House also:
_Issued an executive order allowing the freezing of any financial assets in the United States of citizens, companies or organizations involved in the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The order designates eight organizations in Iran, North Korea and Syria.
_Created a new national coordinator for human intelligence, or classic spycraft, who would guide clandestine activities of the entire intelligence community.
_Asked Congress to reform its oversight of the intelligence community, a controversial proposal that could provoke turf wars and other difficulties on Capitol Hill.
Hayden acknowledged that some of the changes, such as those aimed at improving intelligence analysis, will take years to institute. However, he said others, including the human intelligence chief, could be implemented within two months.
House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., and the panel’s top Democrat, California Rep. Jane Harman, praised the White House’s moves as steps that will help ensure policy-makers get “accurate, timely and actionable intelligence.”
Yet, in an interview, Harman said the issues still require “sustained attention” to ensure that Negroponte isn’t “forever fending off turf attacks.”
The White House said three of the commission’s recommendations require further study, including one that would have called for accountability reviews within three intelligence offices under fire for mistakes in the prewar Iraq intelligence. Hayden noted the recommendation focused on organizational accountability and said reviews were under way.
Another recommendation, regarding the management of covert action, was rejected and remains classified.
Following the advice of blue-ribbon panels, numerous changes have been made to the intelligence community since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many were contained in a sweeping intelligence reform law passed by Congress in December.
“I think we now know what the shape of the animal is going to be,” Berger said, “and we have to make sure that the animal is ready to hunt.”
On the Net:
White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.