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Sources: Bush beefs up CIA chief's power

Executive orders also set up national counterterrorism center

From Suzanne Malveaux and David Ensor

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President Bush orders an overhaul of the nation's intelligence community. CNN's David Ensor reports. (August 27)
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In response to recommendations by the 9/11 panel, President Bush signed executive orders Friday that sources say strengthen the hand of the CIA director and create a national counterrorism center.

U.S. officials said the changes are an "interim step" before the Bush administration proposes legislation next month creating a national intelligence director with greater powers.

One order will give the CIA director additional authority on an interim basis to perform many of the functions that would be carried out by a national intelligence director after such a position is created, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The directives also will establish a national counterterrorism center and set some clear guidelines for greater intelligence sharing among the nation's 15 spy agencies.

The moves are designed to "help take additional steps to find, stop and track terrorists," McClellan said.

Bush initially opposed the creation of the 9/11 commission, but in August he endorsed many of its recommendations.

Sources familiar with the executive orders said they fall well short of the panel's recommendations. They said the real test of how serious Bush is about intelligence reform will be what he puts into the proposed legislation.

The executive orders say the director of central intelligence can "determine" the budgets of intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Organization and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, U.S. officials said. Their budgets currently are under Pentagon purview.

The orders also give the director of central intelligence, for the first time, a role in setting budget priorities for joint military-intelligence programs.

One official complained that the measures do not go far enough, saying they are designed to create the appearance of doing something to respond to the 9/11 commission "without really doing anything meaningful."

However, another source said that the steps, while limited, do strengthen the nation's top intelligence officer.

Speaking to reporters, McClellan said the enhanced CIA director's position would have budget authority within the legal bounds of current law. He emphasized that the national intelligence director ultimately will have budget and personnel authority to carry out his or her duties, but the scope of such powers is still being debated with Congress.

Critics had complained that a White House plan did not call for giving the intelligence czar power over budgets and personnel. Currently, more than three-quarters of the U.S. intelligence budget goes to agencies under the control of the Defense Department.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry has vowed to implement all of the 9/11 commission's recommendations without hesitation.

After Friday's White House announcement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, responded with a statement: "Finally, President Bush is doing part of what the joint inquiry of the congressional intelligence committees and the 9/11 commission have long recommended. But more must be done."

Pelosi said it remains unclear whether Bush and the GOP leadership "will act quickly on the remaining recommendations" before Congress adjourns.

She complained that Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert have failed to reconvene the House during a six-week recess despite repeated requests.

"House Democrats met in Washington, D.C., earlier this month and continued to work. We will introduce legislation to implement the 9/11 commission's recommendations as soon as the House reconvenes. I have encouraged Speaker Hastert to co-sponsor that legislation," she added.

A powerful turf battle is under way behind the scenes between intelligence chiefs and the Pentagon -- and mirrored on Capitol Hill between oversight committees.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has expressed concern that the commission's recommendations could result in an additional layer of bureaucracy rather than a streamlining of U.S. intelligence.

The CIA has an acting director, John McLaughlin. Bush has nominated Rep. Porter Goss, R-Florida, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as director.

Meanwhile, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts has proposed creating a new intelligence agency that would merge the CIA with agencies now under the control of the Pentagon and other departments.

Roberts, R-Kansas, said Sunday his plan would give an intelligence director "real line-item budget authority and personnel authority." (Full story)

But intelligence officials said the plan would make some problems cited in the 9/11 commission's report worse, not better, and other lawmakers said such a drastic overhaul would be a mistake in the middle of a global war on terrorism.

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