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Bush calls for intelligence czar

President embraces key suggestion of 9/11 commission

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President Bush announces his decision to overhaul the nation's intelligence community.

Kerry criticizes Bush's leadership in war on terror.

Pressure builds to act on the 9/11 panel's findings.
White House

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Monday that he is asking Congress to create the position of a national intelligence director to serve as his principal adviser on countering terrorism.

"Our goal is an integrated, unified national intelligence effort," he said.

Bush wants the director to be appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. He said the director will be charged with overseeing and coordinating the "foreign and domestic activities of the intelligence community."

Creating such a position is a key recommendation of the so-called 9/11 commission, a bipartisan panel established by Congress to investigate events before, during and immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"We're a nation in danger," Bush warned Monday, as three major East Coast financial districts operated under heightened security.

The move would require Congress -- which is in recess -- to revise the 1947 National Security Act that created the CIA, Bush said. Under the president's intelligence reorganization plan, the CIA would be managed by a separate director.

Concerning his suggestions, Bush said Congress "can think about them over August, and come back and act on them in September."

The national intelligence director (NID) would have input into the budgets of the intelligence agencies, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said, but final decisions about allocating resources would be made by the president.

Although the 9/11 commission had recommended the position of NID be Cabinet-level, Card said, the chairmen of the commission told him that they did not mean they wanted the director to be a member of the Cabinet.

"They recommended that it be Cabinet-level pay," he said.

In addition, the NID would not have his or her office in the White House, Card said, citing "the large staff" that would be needed.

Criticism and applause

Speaking Monday at a campaign stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry said the Bush administration has not moved rapidly enough on a "long, long list" of recommendations from the 9/11 commission. (Full story)

But the chairman and co-chairman of the 9/11 commission, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, a former U.S. representative from Indiana who served as chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Select Intelligence Committee, threw their support behind Bush's proposals.

"We welcome President Bush's support for several of the commission's recommendations. His announcements today are an important step in the process of reorganizing the U.S. government for a new era," the men said in a statement.

Bush's plan drew fire from the director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"President Bush wants to be able to hire and fire the intelligence czar so he can have this important position in his hip pocket," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director.

"If we go down the road of creating an intelligence czar, that position must be insulated from political winds so that he won't feel pressure to please his boss at the expense of our civil liberties."

But Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia applauded the proposal, saying he agrees with Bush's "objective of more clarity in our oversight of the intelligence community."

Warner is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, which oversees about 85 percent of the intelligence budget. He is also a former vice-chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Bush also said he agreed with the 9/11 commission that congressional oversight of intelligence and homeland security must be altered.

"There are too many committees with overlapping jurisdiction, which wastes time and makes it difficult for meaningful oversight and reform," he said.

The president said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has testified 140 times before various congressional committees and subcommittees.

"It seems like it's one thing to testify and there to be oversight," Bush said. "It's another thing to make sure the people engaged in protecting America don't spend all their time testifying. And so there's going to be some important reforms."

Antiterrorism 'knowledge bank'

The president also revealed plans to create a national counterterrorism center to build on the analytical work of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which began operating in 2003 and is charged with unifying intelligence on terror threats.

"This new center will ... become our government's knowledge bank for known and suspected terrorists," Bush said.

The center will coordinate counterterrorism plans and activities of all government agencies and departments and will be responsible for preparing the daily terrorism threat report that is circulated to the president and senior officials, he said.

Bush said he is appointing Laurence Silberman, a former federal judge, and Chuck Robb, former Democratic governor and senator of Virginia, to study whether a similar center is needed to bring together information about the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The two men are chairmen of the independent Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. The commission is scheduled to complete its work in March.

Flanked by Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Bush announced the plans Monday in the Rose Garden.

Other plans Bush outlined included establishing uniform standards for forms of identification and improving information-sharing throughout the intelligence community.

Bush's move to endorse suggestions from the 9/11 panel and publicize his agenda comes in the midst of an elevated terror threat level in New Jersey, New York and the nation's capital, and in the wake of the commission's urging to enact safety measures as soon as possible. (Full story)

The White House has identified nearly 40 examples of steps the Bush administration says fulfills some of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Among those identified were: pursuing a worldwide strategy of disrupting and denying safe harbors to terrorist groups; promoting reforms in the broader Middle East; developing and deploying cutting-edge technologies to secure the country's borders and ports; and reforming intelligence by improving cooperation and information-sharing among intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security agencies.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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