Bush signs bill overhauling intelligence system

Friday, December 17th 2004, 5:56 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush on Friday signed into law the largest overhaul of U.S. intelligence gathering in 50 years, hoping to improve the spy network that failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

``Our vast intelligence enterprise will become more unified, coordinated and effective,'' Bush said. ``It will enable us to better do our duty, which is to protect the American people.''

The 563-page bill, which endured a thorny path to congressional passage, also aims to tighten borders and aviation security. It creates a federal counterterrorism center and a new intelligence director, but Bush did not announce a candidate for that post at Friday's ceremony.

``A key lesson of Sept. 11 is that America's intelligence agencies must work together as a single, unified enterprise,'' the president said.

Bush was joined at the signing ceremony by CIA Director Porter Goss, FBI Director Robert Mueller, members of Congress, leaders of the Sept. 11 commission and relatives of people killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

``Those charged with protecting America must have the best possible intelligence information and that information must be closely integrated to form the best possible picture of the threats to our country,'' the president said.

The new position of national intelligence director was one of the bill's most controversial aspects. Although the legislation gives the new director strong budget authority, its language is complex enough that there could be continued debate over the exact extent of the director's power.

But Bush attempted to leave no doubt about the sweeping nature of the intelligence director's budgetary authority.

``It will be the DNI's responsibility to determine the annual budgets of all national intelligence agencies and offices and to direct how these funds are spent,'' he said.

Some names that have been mentioned for the post include CIA Director Porter Goss; Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, the head of the National Security Agency; Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend.

The new structure was designed to help the nation's 15 intelligence agencies work together to protect the country from attacks like the ones that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York and Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

The Sept. 11 Commission, in its July report, said disharmony among the intelligence agencies contributed to the inability of government officials to prevent the attacks. The government failed to recognize the danger posed by al-Qaida and was ill-prepared to respond to the terrorist threat, the report concluded.

Commission members and families of attack victims lobbied persistently for the legislation through the summer political conventions, the election and a postelection lame duck session of Congress. The bill was threatened by disagreements between the White House and key House Republicans about immigration issues and how the new national intelligence director would work with the nation's military.

Bush was criticized for not engaging aggressively enough with members of his own party to break the impasse. Pundits questioned what that meant for the president's ability to gain approval from a Republican-controlled Congress for his ambitious second-term agenda. But in the final days, he and Vice President Dick Cheney pushed hard for the legislation, and both the House and Senate passed it overwhelmingly.

Just as Bush changed his mind on supporting the creation of a Homeland Security Department and creation of the independent Sept. 11 Commission, it took him a while to endorse the commission's strong recommendation that any new director of national intelligence have full budget-making control, necessary to wield true power in Washington. Bush at first rejected that idea but later supported it.

The new law includes a host of anti-terrorism provisions, such as letting officials wiretap ``lone wolf'' terrorists and improving airline baggage screening procedures. It increases the number of full-time border patrol agents by 2,000 per year for five years and imposes new federal standards on information that driver's licenses must contain.

The measure is the biggest change to U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis since the creation of the CIA after World War II to deal with the newly emerging Cold War.