WASHINGTON – President Bush on Friday signed the largest overhaul of U.S. intelligence-gathering in a half century, aiming to transform a system designed for Cold War threats so it can deal effectively with the post-Sept. 11 scourge of terrorism.
“Instead of massed armies, we face stateless networks. We face killers who hide in our own cities,” Bush said in a somber ceremony in an ornate Commerce Department auditorium where the treaty creating NATO was signed.
The new law creates a national intelligence center and a powerful new position of national intelligence director to oversee the nation’s 15 separate intelligence agencies.
Bush sat at a small desk adorned with a “Protecting America” placard to sign the legislation that endured a difficult, monthslong path to passage. The president was flanked by CIA Director Porter Goss, FBI Director Robert Mueller, several members of Congress involved in the legislation – including Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., a lead Senate negotiator – and the co-chairs of the independent commission whose findings about the Sept. 11 attacks were the impetus for the bill and who lobbied for its approval.
In the audience were several relatives of people who died in the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and a Pennsylvania field. Families of some attack victims were also central to the bill’s passage, walking the halls of Congress with pictures of loved ones in hand and pressing lawmakers.
The next step is for Bush to choose someone to fill the new post of director of national intelligence.
Establishing such an intelligence chief was a principal recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission. It also was one of the legislation’s most controversial provisions as lawmakers tangled over the extent of the director’s budget authority and how the person would work with the military.
But Bush gave a clear job description, saying the new intelligence director would be the “principle adviser to the president on intelligence matters” and making plain that the director could move intelligence assets around the globe as needed to keep an eye on terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.
Under the legislation, the CIA remains in charge of collecting human intelligence and analyzing all intelligence gathered. But the new law puts the intelligence director over the CIA, along with all 15 of the nation’s military and civilian intelligence agencies to make sure those sometimes disparate interests work together to predict and prevent future attacks.
It also 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.