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President to Announce New Intelligence Agency Tonight

Aired June 6, 2002 - 09:07   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We just got an interesting piece of information about the president making an announcement later tonight about the creation of the new agency called the Center for Intelligence, which would be sort of a clearing house for some of this terrorist information that some people feel the Homeland Security Department is not equipped to deal with.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, so far what we are learning is that it will be announced later tonight as you mentioned, some sort of major clearing house that will unveil -- or actually restructure the Homeland Security issue.

I'm hearing right now John King is live at the White House. Let's get to John for more news on this. John, good morning.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Bill. And Paula, we are told the White House will ask the networks, including CNN to give the president time in prime-time this evening to deliver an address to the nation in which the president will say, based on the recommendations of his advisers and all the troubling things we have heard, of course, in recent weeks about what the government knew but did not share prior to September 11, that it is his decision to create this new Center for Intelligence. It would be a new government agency, and its goal would be to collect and then share where it believes necessary around and throughout the government any information about the terrorist threat overseas or here in the United States.

This, of course, has been a key focal point, and now a key point of debate as we learn more and more about what the government knew in advance of September 11, and whether, as some believe, the government did not take the necessary steps to act on, or at least try to act on, that information. The president will make this announcement tonight. Of course, just as Congress launches sets of hearings. Bob Mueller, the FBI director, due to be up on Capitol Hill today. The Joint Intelligence Committee investigation proceeding as well.

Unclear exactly how this would affect the existing Office of Homeland Security. Senior administration officials telling us this morning the president believes that office needs to stay in place as well, with much more of a focus on domestic security, but we do not have exact details yet as to how this new office would interrelate, but we are told it comes based on recommendations the president has received from his own in house advisers, and from some outside people the administration has consulted, including Brent Scowcroft, who was the national security adviser in the former Bush administration, who has been consulting with this administration now on sensitive intelligence matters -- Bill.

HEMMER: John, two things here. Does Tom Ridge, then, stay and remain as director of Homeland Security, and if Homeland Security is going to stay intact, how will this new division differentiate itself from that?

KING: We are told this new division will deal with sensitive intelligence data. One of the big questions has been, even now, prior to September 11, remember the president did not sit down with both the CIA and the FBI at the same meeting. Now the president does, but even some critics are saying the president meets first every morning with the CIA briefing, usually the director, George Tenet. Not always, but usually. Then the FBI director comes into the room. Even some say why aren't they all together for the entire time.

One of the key questions has been, how do you share the most sensitive intelligence about al Qaeda operations oversees, about other terrorist operations overseas, about other terrorist operations overseas. How do you share that with other government agencies that would care more about, say, law enforcement activities, or interrupting potential activities than developing sources, and developing spies, and developing other contacts overseas.

There is sometimes a conflict between what the FBI wants to do with information, and what the CIA wants to do with information. How do you develop an agency that knows how to handle and process and when and if to share the most sensitive information. That has been one of the dilemmas the government has faced for years, but certainly with a great deal of more intensity since September 11. Just how all the arrangements would be made, how the responsibilities would be divided is a little unclear to us right now.

Remember, even before this, there was a push in Congress that the White House initially resisted, but in recent weeks, as has seemed much more open to elevating the Office of Homeland Security to a cabinet level agency. We will hear more from the president tonight, and obviously we will try to get more information from his top advisers in the hours ahead as to just how all these new relationships and new agencies would connect with each other.

HEMMER: John, in your answer, you mention Congress. Kate Snow reporting that this idea has been floating around Capitol Hill. Was there a sense there at the White House there was a tremendous amount of pressure to make some sort of activity and movement on this front?

KING: Yes, and there is again been a debate even before September 11. The CIA -- everyone knows about the CIA, it is the premier overseas spy organization, yet most of the money the government spends on intelligence, on spying, actually is in the Pentagon budget, in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The president the other day went up and visited the National Security Agency, that is the premier eavesdropping agency around the world. You have several separate agencies, and then you have the FBI, which is charged with law enforcement domestically, but now being retasked by the president to battle terrorism as its primary offensive.

So there are a number of government agencies that are involved in this, and there are turf rivalries and budget rivalries and staff rivalries, and the president has said it would be his urgent mission since September 11 to tear down those walls, and certainly there has been a great deal of criticism in Congress that the president is not acting fast enough, or many believe there are cultural problems, that even if the president identifies this as an urgent priority, unless you restructure these agencies, the staffers simply will not get the message.

HEMMER: John, thanks. John King at the White House. Developing news from there.

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