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President Shows Members of Congress Homeland Security Proposal

Aired June 6, 2002 - 09:25   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Got some breaking news out of Washington now. The president is expected to make an announcement tonight about a new agency that is being created to be a clearing house for terrorist-related materials.

Let's go to John King who is standing by at the White House with more details -- good morning, John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again to you, Paula. The White House in the process now of asking the networks, including CNN, to give the president time in prime-time tonight to announce his plans for what aides say would be the most dramatic reorganization of the government, especially from an intelligence and a security standpoint since World War II.

We are told the president wants to make the Homeland Security Agency, now within the White House, a new cabinet agency. We are told tonight he will propose that it have broad new powers over airport security, new border security measures, and we are told the president wants to create within that structure of a new Homeland Security apparatus, a new intelligence agency that would collect and synthesize all information, not just information, we are told, from the FBI and the CIA and overseas sources like the National Security Agency, but also tips and information and source information from places like the Customs Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The administration saying that in the nine months since September 11, it has identified a profound problem in the government of bringing together all the information that if put into one single repository perhaps could help the government act much more aggressively, much more quickly to head off potential terrorist strikes, as well as other criminal activity here and overseas. Aides saying this is a major reorganization. The congressional leadership at this minute, being brought down to the White House to be briefed on the president's plan. And again, Mr. Bush asking for time to deliver this address and this plan to the nation tonight in prime-time.

It comes, of course, at a time when there is considerable criticism of how the government handled information that it did have prior to September 11. The president will make the case, we are told, that he is still convinced there was not enough evidence in the government's hands to do anything to prevent the September 11 attacks, but that he is convinced, from what he has learned in the past nine months, that the government needs to dramatically change how it handles not only intelligence, but homeland security here, and, again, he wants to create a new cabinet-level agency to do that -- Paula.

ZAHN: John, we're just about three minutes away from some of those congressional hearings being started here with Senator Patrick Leahy starting the proceedings this morning. That is what is so interesting about the timing of this announcement. Even some White House aides are conceding that part of the reason why this new agency existence is going to be announced now is to try to take some the tension away from what could be some damaging information coming out of these hearings. What have you heard about that?

KING: Well, White House aides concede the point on timing, but they also draw us back to statements the president made and his Homeland Security director Tom Ridge made when the president created that position right after the September 11 attacks. Back then, the president said Tom Ridge's first job would be to try to immediately strengthen Homeland Security, and his second job would be to develop a long-term plan. So, the White House will say this plan has been in the works forever.

But it is certainly -- for nine months anyway, but it is certainly fair to say that it is because of the recent intense criticism, because of the recent and increasing disclosures about just what information the government did have but did not share that the effort to get this plan up and running, and this plan before the Congress has taken on a new urgency, and it must go before the Congress.

There is a lot the president has done administratively since September 11 because he wants to create a new government agency, because he wants to create new budget authority, new spending authority, new authority within the federal government, Congress must approve this plan if it is to take place.

ZAHN: You were talking about some of these disclosures that have come out. There is a lot of analysis that would suggest that we're going to see a sea change in the way the administration deals with this information. Can you illuminate us on that?

KING: Well, we are told this new clearing house for intelligence would get all the information. One of the issues that will be discussed when Bob Mueller takes the stand on Capitol Hill today is why is that a memo from an FBI agent in Minnesota or an FBI agent in Phoenix does not quickly make its way to the director of the FBI.

Why is it that that memo, because it raises the threat of a terrorist strike here in the United States, why is that that is not immediately brought to the attention of the CIA, of the president of the United States, of governors of key states where these suspects might be? Those are the questions the government is facing because you do have these memos, and we are told there are likely to be more revelations in the weeks and months ahead about other information the government had.

So what this new agency, we are told, will be a clearing house, top secret intelligence clearance for those at the top of the agency. And if any agency in the government has any information at all about a potential terrorist threat or potential terrorist activities, not only will it go to their supervisor if you will. If it's an FBI person, they would put it up there, chain of command, but it also would go immediately to this new agency, which would be a clearinghouse to connect the dots. We've heard that phrase used a lot in recent weeks.

This new agency, White House officials say, would get all the intelligence the government has, and be able to synthesize it, is the word they're using there, to determine whether there is an immediate terrorist threat, and whether the government needs to do something about it.

ZAHN: John, you are now sharing the screen with the hearing room, where those Senate Judiciary hearings are about to get under way. We were told they were going to start right now, but I think it will be a minute or two later after that.

You know, Senator Grassley, John, has made some very tough comments about the FBI and what has gone wrong here. And he said that one of the things that he would like to see Coleen Rowley talk about today specifically are who the mid-level managers were who allowed some of the missteps to happen. I was just wondering at the White House, if there's any expectations that heads will roll if these names are established sometime today during these hearings?

KING: The White House says that the new director Bob Mueller is already reorganizing and restructuring and taking steps internally, and if those steps should include moving managers, he is prepared to do so. The White House of course would prefer not so public criticism of the agency at a time the president is trying to look forward. Senator Grassley has been an FBI critic dating back more and decade in Washington. He believes bureaucracy that needs to be broken down and rebuilt, and will certainly make that case in the hearing.

The White House says it has full confidence that Bob Mueller will make those changes, but the White House also acknowledges there's increased urgency, and new ideas, including in this new plan the president will announce tonight, that are coming from the key members of Congress as they dissect exactly what the government knew before September 11, and how it has performed not only before, but also since September 11.





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