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Bush Expands Intel Chief's Role


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris. The White House today released a presidential order establishing new rules for U.S. intelligence agencies. Four years ago, Congress created a new post called the director of national intelligence that didn't precisely define the role. The order released today answers some questions, but not others.

NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN: Executive Order 12333 issued in 1981 is known best as the directive banning the CIA from carrying out assassinations; that's among other provisions. The assassination prohibition is still operative, but the order did have to be rewritten to define the role of the new director of national intelligence, the DNI, established in 2004. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, was an author of the intelligence reform creating the DNI position.

Representative PETE HOEKSTRA (Republican, Michigan): We need a unified command structure in the intelligence community guiding and directing and making sure that we get our money's worth out of an organization that we are investing $40 billion in per year.

GJELTEN: At the CIA and the Pentagon, officials have been worrying for months that the new order would give the DNI more of their old authority. But as it turned out, there wasn't much to be excited about. Mark Lowenthal is a former assistant director at the CIA.

Mr. MARK LOWENTHAL (Former Assistant Director, CIA): The metaphor that comes to mind is an elephant going in for labor to give birth to a mouse. I don't think an awful lot has changed.

GJELTEN: Among other issues, CIA officials were worried that the new order would explicitly give the DNI authority to name someone other than a CIA chief of station as his senior intelligence representative in foreign countries. That did not happen, nor was the DNI given authority to coordinate liaison with foreign intelligence services. CIA director Michael Hayden today put out a statement to agency employees saying the new order, quote, "reaffirms CIA statutory authorities and its leadership in fields ranging from human intelligence to covert action abroad."

So how does Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra feel about these changes? He says he only saw the order this morning 10 minutes before he was briefed on it by the director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell. Hoekstra was upset that the order was presented to him as a done deal. He didn't even stay to hear what McConnell said about it.

Rep. HOEKSTRA: I decided to leave. I figured it was a waste of my time and a waste of Admiral McConnell's time to be there and to have a discussion where he had all the information and I had zip.

GJELTEN: So you got up and walked out?

Rep. HOEKSTRA: I got up and walked out. I thought, hey, we're all busy. This was not set up to be a productive session. You know, I wasn't going to waste my time or the admiral's time this morning by participating in what I thought was a farce of a briefing.

GJELTEN: Hoekstra says the Bush administration has treated the Congress, in his words, with total distain during the revision of intelligence agency rules. A senior administration official briefing reporters this morning on the new executive order says members of Congress were consulted, but Hoekstra said he and other members had no input into the reorganization. In fact, the question of whether the 2004 intelligence reform was a good idea is left unresolved. President Bush is leaving office in six months.

As a staffer at the House Intelligence Committee, Mark Lowenthal once wrote a report on the future of the intelligence community. And he thinks the issue is bound to come up again.

Mr. LOWENTHAL: I would say that it would be really good to have a serious review of how is the DNI functioning. Is he really able to achieve the goals that Congress set forth for him? And if not, what would you do about it? This doesn't do that. That's the kind of conversation you probably want to hold off on until the new administration comes in.

GJELTEN: Barack Obama and John McCain both come from Congress, so it's a good-bad intelligence reform will be revisited by a new White House with congressional input regardless of who wins.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.