Bush claims reforming intelligence a must
* Proposes $2 billion for Florida, attacks Kerry
WASHINGTON: President George W Bush said on Saturday his newly enacted changes in the nation’s intelligence community will “improve America’s ability to find, track and stop dangerous terrorists,” while Democratic critics said the election-season moves fall short of what is needed.
The president said the four executive orders he signed on Friday - which give the CIA director additional power over the intelligence community until a new post of national intelligence director is created, establish a national counter terrorism centre and promote intelligence-sharing across the government - “reflect specific recommendations” of an independent commission that investigated the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“All of them are essential to America’s security as we wage the war on terror,” Bush, speaking in his weekly radio address, said of the orders. But critics immediately questioned whether Bush was going as far as the commission advised.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the executive orders are the latest example of Bush acting only “dragging and kicking” on important national security matters.
“Now they say they’re willing to embrace a director of national intelligence, but they’re not really willing to embrace it because they won’t give him budget authority,” he said. After the release earlier in the summer of the 9/11 commission’s report, political pressure grew for Congress and the president to get behind the recommendations the panel made to reform the government in response to the attacks. Key recommendations included the creation of a national intelligence director; separate from the director of the CIA, with real authority over budgets and personnel across the intelligence community and a central national counter terrorism centre to handle intelligence operations and analysis.
Debate has been most fierce over the powers of the new post.
The White House says that the intelligence director should have oversight over spending and hiring and firing, but has yet to endorse full budget authority for the proposed position. It is up to Congress whether to change the law to create the new position, and lawmakers are working to draft legislation that would do that as part of a broader overhaul of US intelligence.
“America faces a great threat, and our government is doing everything in its power to confront and defeat that threat,” Bush said. “In all that lies ahead, America will stay focused and determined, and we will prevail.”
Earlier President George W Bush announced a $2 billion proposal to help Florida rebound from Hurricane Charley and accused Democrat John Kerry of being soft on the sensitive issue of Cuba as he campaigned in the crucial battleground state on Friday.
Bush made his third visit to Florida in the past three weeks, underscoring the importance of its 27 electoral votes as he embarked on an extensive travel schedule leading up to his speech in New York on Thursday night accepting the Republican nomination for president. agencies