Ten days after the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks issued its recommendations, President Bush today threw his support behind its two central proposals: creating a powerful chief of national intelligence, and establishing a new counterterrorism center.
However, the president said the proposed intelligence czar should not be a part of the Cabinet or the White House, as the commission had suggested, leaving open the question of just how the new director would operate within the government.
“I don’t think the person ought to be a member of my Cabinet,” Bush said at a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, accompanied by some of his top officials. “I don’t think the office ought to be in the White House.”
White House officials indicated that it would be up to Congress to decide the issue when it drafts legislation to create the job.
“There are huge jurisdictional challenges that must be addressed by Congress,” said Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff and head of the White House task force considering the 9/11 recommendations. “And since we do not play a role in that — that’s part of the legislative branch responsibility — we’ll work closely with them.”
The White House has worked hard to appear responsive to the recommendations by the independent commission, which has described its 41 recommendations as highly urgent.
Bush’s announcement came a day after officials warned of plans by terrorists to attack financial institutions in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
Those threats, Bush said, are “a serious reminder — a solemn reminder — of the threat we continue to face.”
The intelligence director would be appointed by the president, with the consent of the Senate. The CIA would be managed by a separate director, while the new intelligence director would have the “broader responsibility of leading the intelligence community across our government,” Bush said.
“President Bush wants to be able to hire and fire the intelligence czar so he can have this important position in his hip pocket,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director. “If we go down the road of creating an intelligence czar, that position must be insulated from political winds so that he won’t feel pressure to please his boss at the expense of our civil liberties.”
He said he would not call Congress back from its vacation, which ends at Labor Day, to act immediately upon his proposals, which he said would require a “substantial revision of the 1947 National Security Act.”
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said he was “pleased that the president has adopted some of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission,” but he was critical of the timing.
“What seems to be lacking is a real sense of urgency,” Kerry said this morning in Michigan, where he was campaigning.
“I regret that it’s taken us almost three years to get to the point where these recommendations are now being adopted. Many of them I called for, and others have called for, over the course of the last years, some of them very obvious. I regret that the president seems to have no sense of urgency to make America as safe as it needs to be.”
Kerry said he would call Congress back to Washington to “get the job done now. That’s what we need to do.”
The president also said he was looking into whether there was a need for a “similar center in our government” to monitor intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. He did not provide specifics.
And Bush backed the commission’s recommendation for an overhaul of how Congress provides oversight of intelligence. Bush said he “strongly” agreed that there should be fewer committees for administration officials to report to.
“There are too many committees with overlapping jurisdiction, and this wastes time and makes it difficult for meaningful oversight and reform,” Bush said.
Times staff writers Jonathan Peterson, Josh Meyer and Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.