WASHINGTON - President Bush urged creation of a national intelligence director Monday to coordinate the war on terrorism but without the sweeping powers for hiring, firing and spending at the CIA, FBI and other agencies recommended by the Sept. 11 commission.
"We're a nation in danger," Bush said in a White House Rose Garden appearance where he announced his support for a national intelligence chief and the establishment of a national center to plan counterterrorism operations in the United States and abroad. "We're doing everything we can in our power to confront the danger."
The White House indicated Bush was close to naming a new CIA chief to succeed George Tenet, who left office last month. "I expect he'll have more to say on that soon," said spokesman Scott McClellan.
Bush's announcement showed his determination to keep what polls show is a substantial advantage over Democratic rival John Kerry on the issue of fighting terrorism. Kerry said Bush's appearance and a new terror warning covering financial institutions in New York, Washington and New Jersey was an example of the president's ability to control the campaign agenda.
Kerry said Bush should act more quickly.
"I regret that the president seems to have no sense of urgency to make America as safe as it needs to be," said Kerry, who has endorsed all of the commission's 40 or so recommendations. He said it had taken Bush three years to deal with changes, "some of them very obvious."
Brushing aside a recommendation from Kerry, Bush said he had no plans to summon Congress back into a special session this summer to address the proposed changes. "They can think about them over August and come back and act on them in September," said Bush.
The creation of a national intelligence director and counterterrorism center were the central recommendations of the independent commission to strengthen the nation's fight against terrorism. In a scathing report, the commission said intelligence and law enforcement agencies mishandled clues that might have led them to the Sept. 11 attackers. The report warned that the nation was still at substantial risk, and panel members urged the president and Congress to embrace their recommendations in full.
Bush rejected the panel's recommendation that the director control all intelligence budgets, and have the authority to choose who would lead the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies. The president also turned aside the commission's idea for placing both the counterterrorism center and the director within the White House.
"I don't think that person ought to be a member of my Cabinet," Bush said. "I will hire the person, and I can fire the person. ... I don't think that the office ought to be in the White House, however.
"I think it ought to be a stand-alone group, to better coordinate, particularly between foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence matters."
Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, said that keeping the new director and center out of the White House would spare them from "undue pressure of a White House staff or White House activity."
Card said that the national intelligence director would have "an awful lot of clout, an awful lot of power" even though he lacked the authority to set the budget for individual intelligence agencies. The Defense Department and Homeland Security Department both have budgets and have to go through a process that includes a review by the Office of Management and Budget. "And that should be the same for the national intelligence director," Card said.
The Senate's top Democrat, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, called Bush's endorsement "an important step," and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said he was encouraged by Bush's move.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said the White House had a responsibility to the survivors of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks to act more quickly.
"President Bush is doing what has long been recommended," she said. "Why has it taken three years?
Bush also urged Congress to change how lawmakers oversee the intelligence services. "There are too many committees with overlapping jurisdiction, which wastes time and makes it difficult for meaningful oversight and reform," he said.
The president defended his record on homeland security, saying the administration has refocused the FBI on terror threats, created the Department of Homeland Security, set up the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and worked to ensure a "seamless spread of information throughout our government."
Bush said the national director of intelligence would be appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Under the reorganization Bush is backing, the director would be the president's principal intelligence adviser and the CIA would be managed by a separate director.