White House officials called the orders an “interim step” in intelligence reform.
“Until the national intelligence director is created by Congress, we want to make sure that we have an interim structure in place to oversee some of these steps that we are taking,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
One order gives the CIA director authority to oversee all 15 intelligence agencies. The two other orders create a national counter-terrorism center and provide guidelines for intelligence sharing among agencies.
The president, who signed the orders days before the start of the Republican National Convention in New York City, has been criticized by the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for not acting fast enough on the commission’s recommendation to nominate a national intelligence chief with power over all intelligence agencies.
While White House officials argued they do want to create that position, Kerry said the plans President Bush announced earlier this month do not give enough authority to that individual.
Members of the commission, who recommended the intelligence chief position, said the person should not be charged with both acting as the director of the CIA and overseeing all intelligence agencies.
“Rather than having three or four jobs, the director can now concentrate on the CIA and rebuilding that agency, and ensure that the agency is really reformed so it can do its job,” Thomas Kean, chairman of the 9/11 commission, said. “The idea is to have a CIA director whose job is really the agency. He shouldn’t have to run the whole intelligence community.”
In order to create the new top intelligence job, Congress would have to amend the National Security Act of 1947, which created the CIA, National Security Council and Defense Department, Reuters reported.
Earlier this month President Bush nominated House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., as the new CIA director to replace George Tenet who resigned last month. Goss must be confirmed by the Senate, which will start holding confirmation hearings early next month.
In the interim, John McLaughlin is the acting CIA director.