The Bush Administration is trying to improve efforts to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The changes follow recommendations from a presidential panel investigating why American intelligence agencies were so wrong about Iraqi weapons programs before the U.S.-led invasion.
The White House is endorsing nearly all of the recommendations from a bipartisan commission that investigated pre-war intelligence failures.
The immediacy of the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was President Bush's biggest justification for toppling Saddam Hussein two years ago. None of those weapons were found, and the commission concluded that American spy agencies were "dead wrong" in almost all of their judgments about Iraqi chemical and biological weapons.
Completing a 90-day review of the commission's findings, White House Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend says the administration is taking steps to gather more reliable intelligence while making the nation safer: "A stronger, more vibrant intelligence community produces better intelligence products upon which good decisions can be made. And so I think the steps that we are taking to strengthen the intelligence community help us to prevent terrorist attacks and thereby do keep the country safer."
Chief among the commission's recommendations was the creation of a single director of national intelligence to oversee all U.S. spy operations. President Bush agreed and already has Ambassador John Negroponte on the job after a relatively quick Senate
But much of Mr. Negroponte's challenge in coordinating intelligence gathering and analysis is overcoming a bureaucracy spread through different, sometimes competing, departments.
So far, Ms. Townsend says she is pleasantly surprised at how open intelligence officials have been to making changes in the middle of a continuing fight against terrorism: "We've enjoyed a good deal of success. The FBI has disrupted plots at home and the CIA has disrupted plots away. And while there have been mistakes and places where we are weak and we need to strengthen it, people are very committed. I have not seen the sorts of bureaucratic struggles that you might expect."
President Bush has signed an executive order blocking the assets of people engaged in trafficking in weapons of mass destruction. He has also approved the creation of a National Security Service within the FBI specializing in intelligence and other national security matters in cooperation with the Justice Department.
There is a new National Counter Proliferation Center to manage and coordinate investigations into nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons as well as their delivery systems.
The president is calling on Congress to make improvements that require legislative action, including greater oversight and the extension of electronic surveillance in cases involving foreign agents who are not U.S. citizens.
Ms. Townsend says there has been no determination of who should be held accountable for intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraqi invasion. She says that will be up to National Intelligence Director Negroponte.