Bush Orders Intelligence Overhaul

WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush has ordered an overhaul of U.S. intelligence powers to boost the authority of the national intelligence director, touching off a firestorm of criticism in Congress and charges by House Intelligence Committee leaders yesterday that the White House kept them in the dark about the changes (see GSN, April 12, 2007).

"The revised order directs the intelligence community to produce timely, accurate and insightful intelligence with special emphasis on the threats posed by international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.

Angry committee Republicans went so far as to walk out of a briefing by National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell on changes Bush made to a 1981 executive order governing the operations of U.S. intelligence agencies.  An aide said the committee was initially only given briefing slides outlining the changes, and did not get a detailed description until a half hour before McConnell came -- well after the changes were made public by the White House.

"The administration knows that a PowerPoint briefing to staff and notifying the committee after leaking details of an executive order to the media does not constitute briefing the congressional intelligence committees as they have claimed," said House Intelligence ranking member Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.).  "Given the impact that this order will have on America's intelligence community, and this committee's responsibility to oversee intelligence activities, this cannot be seen as anything other than an attempt to undercut congressional oversight."

Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) said he was "deeply disappointed" the White House did not seek congressional advice on the document, which was technically a new executive order.

"After seven years of a go-it-alone presidency, perhaps I should expect nothing more from this White House," Reyes said.

In April, Reyes and Hoekstra publicly criticized the Bush administration for failing to give their committee advanced notice of an Israeli covert operation to bomb a suspected nuclear facility site in Syria in September 2007.

In response to criticism, an aide to McConnell said "the administration has been briefing congressional oversight committees for the past two and half weeks on this [executive order]."  Across Capitol Hill, aides to the Senate Intelligence Committee said they were not upset with McConnell and do not feel they were slighted.  The aides said they were aware for several months that changes were in the works, noting that they stem from a 2004 congressional law overhauling intelligence agencies.

"This isn't as if this has come clear out of the blue," one aide said.  "It's an executive order.  They're not required to get our sign-off on it."

The aides said they were given a draft copy of the changes last week.  However, they acknowledged they were not given the final order until it was approved by Bush.  They said the committee plans a closed hearing today with McConnell to review the changes.

According to the White House, the order clarifies the responsibilities and strengthens the authority of the office of the national intelligence director.

"The DNI will set goals for the conduct of the nation's intelligence activities by, among other things, issuing guidelines governing collection, analysis, and intelligence sharing and formulating policies to guide our intelligence relationships with foreign countries," the White House said. "The DNI also will participate more fully in decisions regarding the selection and, if necessary, the removal of senior intelligence officials."

The DNI is given responsibility to formulate policy for engagement with foreign agencies, a job traditionally handled by the CIA. Under the new arrangement, the CIA will coordinate implementation of those polices, according to the PowerPoint slides.

August 1, 2008
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WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush has ordered an overhaul of U.S. intelligence powers to boost the authority of the national intelligence director, touching off a firestorm of criticism in Congress and charges by House Intelligence Committee leaders yesterday that the White House kept them in the dark about the changes (see GSN, April 12, 2007).