President Bush has ordered what may be a major expansion of the CIA, calling for the beleaguered agency to add thousands of analysts and spies as part of an ongoing buildup in the war on terrorism, according to a White House memorandum released Tuesday.
But the directive set no timetable for the changes and offered no indication that the White House intended to ask Congress for the massive funding increase such a plan would require.
The proposal was outlined in a memorandum delivered to CIA Director Porter J. Goss last week. Bush instructed the intelligence chief to increase the number of analysts and spies at the CIA by 50%. The figure stunned current and former intelligence officials, several of whom said the CIA had not charted such an aggressive course of growth since its inception after World War II.
The CIA is thought to have an annual budget of about $5 billion and employ more than 17,000 people, although the figures are classified. Sources said the agency’s clandestine service employed several thousand people, and that its analytic branch -- known as the directorate of intelligence -- was even larger.
The Bush memo said the increases were to take place “as soon as feasible,” and would be “subject to the availability of appropriations.” Bush gave the agency 90 days to develop a budget and a plan.
Because of the caveats contained in the document and the manner in which it was released by the White House, the memo was greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism in the intelligence community.
“I wouldn’t overreach” in attaching significance to the document, a U.S. intelligence official said. “The way it’s being looked at is a codification of some of the things the agency has been doing before. It builds on some of those measures and adds to them.”
The 50% targets were significantly higher than anything previously articulated by the administration, but the intelligence official said the issue of timing was not addressed. “The question becomes, ‘When?’ and there doesn’t seem to be any time frame,” the official said.
The White House provided no additional details on the memo, one of several issued by Bush last week and released Tuesday as part of a series of measures on recommendations from the panel that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.
A White House official said the directives represented an effort by Bush to “take additional steps under his own authority responding to recommendations made by the 9/11 commission. These are partial steps.”
A senior administration official cautioned against interpreting the memo as a shift in policy or a preview of new budget requests. It is more of a “refocusing,” the official said.
“This is the president’s attempt to be responsive to the 9/11 commission recommendations, to put further specificity to what he agreed to in August,” the official said.
The senior administration official said some of the growth could be covered with existing money. “It’s fair for us to say that since 9/11, and during the president’s first administration, these budgets have grown significantly,” the official said.
This year, Bush issued a preliminary set of executive orders designed to carry out reforms that did not require congressional approval. Several congressional and intelligence officials noted that Bush issued the latest orders as intelligence overhaul legislation was collapsing on Capitol Hill last week.
The officials suggested that by moving on minor reforms it could carry out on its own authority, the White House might be seeking to deflect criticism that it failed to lobby hard enough for passage of the bill.
The legislation, which would have created a new national intelligence director to oversee all 15 U.S. spy agencies, was thwarted by objections from senior House Republicans.
Although the White House said the memos were crafted in response to recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission, the panel never proposed 50% increases in the analytic and clandestine service ranks of the CIA.
“We didn’t attach those kinds of numbers,” said Philip Zelikow, the former executive director of the commission. Nor did White House officials indicate they were contemplating such large increases, Zelikow said.
“It’s a little too strange.... Usually, even Santa brings you things that were on your Christmas wish list,” he said.
Under former CIA Director George J. Tenet, the agency stepped up its recruiting efforts significantly -- going from graduating about two dozen case officers a year in the mid-1990s to 10 times that many in recent years, according to a former senior CIA official.
Boosting the agency’s analytic and spying ranks by 50% would take years and a massive infusion of money -- hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more -- the former CIA official said.
“There is a finite number of people you can recruit unless you want to lower qualifications,” he said, adding that there was such a shortage of analysts that several intelligence agencies struggled to fill key slots.
In the memo, Bush called for the agency to ensure that it hired new case officers “from diverse backgrounds” and to increase CIA officers “tested and proficient in mission-critical languages” such as Arabic.
In a separate memo, Bush ordered the Pentagon and the CIA to examine whether the agency ought to surrender to the military much of its role in conducting covert paramilitary operations. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has expressed misgivings about the idea, and senior CIA officials vehemently oppose it. Details of that Bush memo were reported Tuesday in the New York Times.
A third memo addressed to Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft essentially endorsed steps the FBI had taken since Sept. 11 to create a beefed-up domestic intelligence unit.
Times staff writer Richard B. Schmitt in Washington contributed to this report. Miller reported from Washington and Wallsten from Crawford, Texas.