Bush’s Order on Intelligence Sparks a Furor in Congress

Republicans Walk Out; Member Threatens Funds

The Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, speaks during a press conference as President Bush look on in January 2007.

WASHINGTON – Fed up with the White House’s reluctance to share intelligence, Republican lawmakers briefed yesterday on a new executive order reshuffling the intelligence community walked out in protest, and their leader is threatening tougher measures.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told The New York Sun yesterday that he would punish the intelligence community from now on when they asked to spend money in areas that were not initially authorized in the budgeting process. The chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence panels approve requests by intelligence agencies to “reprogram” funds from the areas to which they were initially budgeted.

“I will not sign off on any reprogramming until at least they provide us with the information by law that they are required to give us,” Mr. Hoekstra said.

Mr. Hoekstra has emerged as a thorn in the side of the White House, the CIA, and the director of national intelligence over the issue of sharing information with Congress. He criticized the intelligence community on April 25 when, after more than six months, the White House informed Congress that Israel had taken out a North Korean-designed nuclear facility in Syria. He said yesterday that last month he declined a reprogramming request from an intelligence agency, promising to lift his hold only after the full committee is briefed.

But the matter of Executive Order 12333 is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The order updated the role of America’s 16 intelligence agencies and the National Security Council in budgeting, intelligence gathering, and authorization of covert operations.

Mr. Hoekstra said that from now on he was expecting the White House to be more collaborative in its approach to making intelligence policy. “The community has money they have under-spent, they have not spent all the money on the areas it says in the budget, and at the end of the year they want to move some money around,” Mr. Hoekstra said. “I am not going to sign off on any of this until this kind of thing stops.”

When asked for a response yesterday, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe, said, “We regularly consulted Congress.” A senior administration official who briefed reporters yesterday said that the process of drafting the order involved a lot of consultation with Congress.

“We have spent specifically on the provisions in the draft executive order the better part of the last two or two and a half weeks dealing with multiple committees on the Hill – at the staff level, at the member level, making experts available to provide briefings,” this official said. He went on to say that numerous committees were informed, adding, “There have been countless, countless hours by dozens and dozens of people who’ve been involved with this process – discussing, reviewing, and walking through the provisions of the order – various staffers, rooms full of staffers.”

The chairman of the House intelligence panel, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat from Texas, disagreed. He said, “After seven years of a go-it-alone presidency, perhaps I should expect nothing more from this White House. But this order will be binding on future administrations as well.”

Mr. Hoekstra said in a statement, “As it was, the text of the order was not provided to the intelligence committee until 30 minutes before the committee was briefed and after it had been released on the Web. Given the impact that this order will have on America’s intelligence community, and this committee’s responsibility to oversee intelligence activities, this cannot be seen as anything other than an attempt to undercut congressional oversight.”

Mr. Hoekstra said he received a phone call from the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, after the briefing, in which Mr. Hadley told the lawmaker that he was interested in his feedback on the executive order. Mr. Hoekstra said he told the national security adviser that he would read the order during his vacation but asked him why he would seek his feedback on the document after the president signed it.

The new executive order, which has been declassified and is featured on the White House Web site, appears to reaffirm the role of the director of national intelligence as the sole authority in tasking intelligence collection to other intelligence agencies such as the CIA and the National Security Agency. The order also gives the CIA the primary role in executing covert operations, or secret and often lethal activities approved by the president. The director of national intelligence will have oversight authority over the CIA, and the National Security Council will provide the president with policy options regarding covert action.

By ELI LAKE, Staff Reporter of the Sun
August 1, 2008
Source: The New York Sun

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