|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 30, 2004
Press Background Briefing on the President's Intelligence Reform Since 9/11 by a Senior Administration Official 3 20 P.M. EDT
Via Conference Call
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everybody. I think it's pretty clear, the 9/11 Commission report is an important document for Americans to read in order to better understand the threats facing us today from terrorism. It provides a solid history -- a description of the history and development and, frankly, the current nature of the threat posed by terrorists. And I also think it does -- it goes a good distance in effectively describing the enemy we're facing in Islamic extremists.
As you all know, last week the President asked Andy Card to form a task force to conduct a fast track review of the commission's recommendations. He also tasked the group with providing recommendations to him not only on how he should respond, but perhaps even where we believe -- the administration believes we could go further. As part of this effort, we have assembled the summary -- I think you have in front of you -- highlighting what steps President Bush has already taken related to the recommendations in the report. I think in many ways it's an impressive list of accomplishments. Frankly, many of the recommendations are, in effect, an endorsement of the President's counter-terrorism policy.
As you can tell from the matrix that you've got in front of you, we've taken action in a variety of areas related to foreign policy, in terms of building coalition and building our -- building the coalition in a number and a variety of ways, from APEC and bilaterally with a number of our allies also in NATO. This has become a real cornerstone of the President's foreign policy and his commitment to building -- increasing the size of the coalition.
On the homeland security side, there's a number of accomplishments there. The President signed -- it's interesting, because in terms of the homeland security recommendations, in several instances, three of the President's directives that he signed already go to the very recommendations that the commission suggests. On the foreign policy side there are some good recommendations and, as you know, we've worked very hard in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to strengthen our bilateral relationship in fighting the war on terror.
We met again this morning. The task force under Secretary Card's leadership met again this morning for nearly two hours on the recommendations, on how to build on these accomplishments. We are making good progress. I expect that our group will have recommendations to the President pretty soon here.
The recommendations in the area of intelligence reform will in some ways go beyond, I expect, what the 9/11 Commission has recommended. This issue -- this is of primary importance to our security. You have heard our concern about the current threat we're facing. And the President wanted to ensure we examine the commission's recommendations thoroughly. By the same token, you've seen how extensive the report is, and we have to be careful not to have a knee-jerk response that may have unintended consequences.
The President has laid out three principles guiding our discussions. Our recommendations: we'll need to increase our human intelligence capability; maintain our technical collection advantage over the enemy; and improve coordination among our agencies in the intelligence community. And integral to that is ensuring really seamless information sharing.
Now, I don't -- I will not get into where we are on specific recommendations. But I will highlight some issues raised by the commission recommendations on intelligence reform. It strikes me, in looking at that chapter of the report, that we need to, in considering each of these recommendations, place a premium and real attention on how to protect civil liberties while better safeguarding our homeland. It seems to me we have to look at how to preserve existing protections and shielding the intelligence agencies from any undue influence and maintaining their autonomy, and valuing competitive analysis. We should look to how to maintain appropriate controls on intelligence planning and operations.
All in all, I believe that there are good solutions to issues raised by the commission, and I think that you will find, when the President is prepared to speak publicly, that his views reflect the concerns I've mentioned.
Q Thanks for doing this. What is the thinking about -- there are some reservations being expressed by critics about the idea of having a Director of National Intelligence in the Executive Office of the President, and some concerns about the counter-terrorism center, as well. What is the thinking now on how you will deal with that, and whether you would leave it in the Executive Office of the President or not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Jim, obviously, we're -- having started by saying I wasn't going to speak to any specific recommendations -- (laughter) -- let me just say, I mean, when I said to you that we have to be careful to protect intelligence agencies from any undue influence, I think that what I said goes to the heart of where this is placed.
We want to ensure that the intelligence operators and analysts maintain their autonomy. And I think that has got to be a key consideration when you look at the issue of where you place either of those.
Q And any thinking yet on whether or not they have to be outside the EOP in order for that integrity to be maintained?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I've said about as much as I'm going to say right now. (Laughter.) It's nice, though, you asked twice. (Laughter.)
Q Well, no, we're just trying to get a sense if you have any misgivings. There are quite a few misgivings out and the ACLU said today that this was a very dangerous thing and suggested that people might be taking partisan -- offering partisan pressures for quick action, when it should be carefully considered. And I'm just wondering if you share any of those misgivings or concerns?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, given how complicated and how important an issue it is, I think -- I'm sort of staggered at how quick people are to endorse wholesale the commission report without some considered reflection on it. That's what we're doing -- that doesn't mean we're not going to move fast. But I think it is fair to say that there are some very important potential consequences to the placement of the office. And so we're taking a hard look at it.
Q Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
Q Since the 9/11 Commission report, you know, obviously, attention has shifted toward whether, you know, there's going to be this National Intelligence Director. How much urgency is there right now given that to name a permanent CIA director right now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me be clear. I deal with follow-up and response to terrorism threat information every day all day, and I can assure you, while it is -- it's sort of obvious that leadership of the intelligence community is important, the men and women of the CIA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security work diligently against that threat every single day. And of course, while -- as I said, while leadership is important, it's real -- what's most important in leadership is getting the right person in the right position with a clear mission.
And so I think while the President is going to move forward, it's not -- we are working against what is important, as we speak, without that position being permanently filled.
Q Does that mean that it's likely that it's not going to happen during the August recess?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I wouldn't presume to guess about the President's timing of a decision on that.
Q Hi, thanks for doing this. I wanted to follow up on Jim -- I apologize for that. If you could just lay out a little bit of the history of where this concern comes from, your language that it's important to put a premium on protecting civil liberties and to maintain appropriate controls on intelligence planning and operations. Historically, why do we need to be concerned about those issues?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, Maura, I think it goes back, I mean, the references -- to those of us who have been involved in counterterrorism operations and involved with the intelligence community, it goes all the way back to Church and Pike. As you begin to enable and empower the intelligence community -- and there are elements of the CIA that operate overseas, there are elements of the FBI and DHS who operate here in the United States -- you've got to be very careful about, while empowering them to keep the country safe, making sure there are checks and balances.
The commission's report talks about privacy considerations, specifically where there's information sharing between those and among those communities. I think that you will find the President to go even further, in terms of protecting privacy and civil liberties and taking the commission's report, frankly, a bit further than they did. He is very, very sensitive to this issue, and will take -- play a leadership role there.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
Q Hi, thanks for the briefing. A couple questions. One is, you say the President may go beyond what the commission is asking for, and you've just given us a little hint -- as you've mentioned, privacy and civil liberties. Are there other areas in which you could legitimately characterize whatever you're thinking about as going beyond the quite sweeping recommendations that the commission is making?
And, secondly, I've just looked through what you've passed out, I've looked through it very briefly. I don't see any real addressing of the HUMINT problem. Is there something you're working on -- although you might not want to give us the details -- that addresses that, or do you think that that's already being taken care of?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Dana, I would be careful about sort of signaling to you specific areas. I mean, I think what we need to do is to roll out for you how we have approached the commission's recommendations. I should say to you -- you call their recommendations "sweeping." While I think it is very comprehensive and a very, very laudable effort, it doesn't, you know, nobody has got the corners of the market on creative and important ideas. And I think we've got a lot of experience now in a post-9/11 world with the interagency process, with information sharing, and where that's vulnerable and weak. And so I just think you can look -- you can expect that the administration will try to go beyond, based on its experience in this area.
Now, as regards HUMINT, that's really tied up in the intelligence reform issue. And I'd rather not talk about -- talk to that specifically until the President is prepared to state his views.
Q Okay, maybe another way to say it is, among these many things that you're highlighting that have already taken place, I don't see any, but please point me to some if they are there, that address the HUMINT deficiency question.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Absolutely. The President almost immediately began to increase the budget of the CIA to increase case offices. Increasing the number of case offices in your investment in the intelligence agency does more to increase your HUMINT. Second, on the domestic side, there's two answers there. One involves the transformation of the FBI and the focus on prevention, which has caused Director Mueller to establish an intelligence director. That, too, will increase HUMINT. And then DHS, by bringing all the border agencies together, I can tell you, that, too, increases your HUMINT, not only in quantity, but in quality, and understanding what the picture is.
Q Hi, thanks again, as everyone was saying, for helping us out here on -- with our questions. I wonder if you can characterize it all for me the process by which these discussions are taking place, i.e., how involved is the President, personally? We know that he's participated in three of these secure videoconferences. Has he -- do you know if he's finished reading the 9/11 Commission's report? Who is generating the ideas, and, again, what is the personal level involvement of the President in all this?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I know that he is reading it. I don't know -- I can't tell you -- he was in Crawford and I was here in Washington, so I can't tell you exactly what page he's on. But I know that he is reading it and intends to read it all the way through.
The President, at the very first video, secure videoconference, opened up the discussion. So in terms of framing it and framing what his expectations are, he was -- he was personally involved and very, very clear with the principles committee. I sit on this task force -- I sit on the task force, and he has attended -- I can't say every, because he wanted the principles on the task force to have the ability to have a free conversation back and forth, but he has attended multiple -- he has attended several of those sessions.
Q We were told three. Is that the correct number? I think it was Monday, Thursday -- Monday, Wednesday and Thursday?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Yes, that's right.
Q Okay. And, again, as far as, again, generating these ideas when you talk about going further, can you tell us, is there sort of a free flow of ideas coming from everyone in the group, the President contributing? How is all that working?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: There were initially, in terms of breaking down the recommendations for review, I headed a group of senior administration officials who looked at the homeland security ones; there is a staff member for Condi and I who headed a working group that looked at the intelligence issues; and then there was -- one of Condi's deputies headed a group that looked at the foreign policy recommendations.
And, basically, they sort of served up to the principles committee what the consensus from the community was, but I will tell you, make no mistake, that was not taken sort of wholesale by the principles. There has been a spirited and lively debate almost across the board.
Q Thank you.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Sure.
Q Thanks very much. I want to get back to the issue of the National Intelligence Director. In your discussions, have you talked about, or is it important, do you think, to talk about a long-term for this person, perhaps overlapping administrations? And how important do you think that would be to, as you say, maintaining autonomy?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: You know, that has been -- truthfully, we have spent our time, one, focused on the commission's recommendations specifically; and then looking at what are our additional concerns and objectives in terms of strengthening the position.
Our focus really hasn't been on the bureaucratics of it. It's not been on sort of the -- when I say the bureaucratics, I mean, you know, a term that's been focused on, what is that person's authority and what is it that you want that person to be able to do as you think your way through that person's relationship, for example, with the Director of CIA and the rest of the community. And so that's really what it's been focused on. I wouldn't say that we've had a real, fulsome discussion on a term.
Q Has there been much discussion at all about a length of term?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I mean, I would not describe it as having consumed a large part of the discussion. I just think it's been on bigger, sort of more fundamental issues like authority.
MR. McCORMACK: Okay, well, everybody, thank you very much. Our senior administration official has to run off. Just a reminder for everybody who may have -- those who may have joined late. The attribution for our briefer should be Senior White House Official. And thanks, everybody, for calling in.
END 3:40 P.M. EDT