Two members of the Sept. 11 commission criticized President Bush’s proposal to create a national intelligence director, telling Congress on Tuesday that the White House plan fails to give the new spy chief the executive powers needed to revamp the nation’s intelligence agencies.
Without the power to set budgets and hire and fire senior managers, the new intelligence czar will lack the clout to make major changes at the nation’s 15 spy agencies, the commissioners told lawmakers at the first House hearing prompted by the panel’s 567-page report on the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“The person that has the responsibility needs the authority,” Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Nebraska senator, told the House Government Reform Committee. “Absent that, they’re not going to be able to get the job done.”
Republican commissioner John Lehman, a former Navy secretary who has been seen as a possible replacement for retiring CIA Director George Tenet, also urged the president to reconsider his proposal to base the director outside the White House. The commission recommended establishing the position within the White House to keep the director from being overshadowed by powerful Cabinet members, such as the defense secretary.
“Our recommendations are not a Chinese menu,” Lehman said. “They are a whole system. If all of the important elements are not adopted, it makes it very difficult for the others to succeed.”
The testimony by the two commissioners, who were speaking for the 10- member bipartisan panel known officially as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, is likely to have significant influence with Congress, which must approve any legislation establishing the intelligence director.
Again, it’s not clear the that Commission’s recommendation was right; what is clear is that the President was simply not telling the truth when he announced that he was adopting that recommendation, and that reporters who printed that claim without making its falsity clear were misinforming their readers.
Since the President opposed the creation of the Commission, and then indicated no enthusiasm for its recommendations, I think his current pretense of accepting them is a simultaneous flip-flop and straddle. He really knows how to make the hard ones look easy doesn’t he?