Remarks by the President on Intelligence Reform
The Rose Garden
[8:33 A.M. PDT]
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming. I appreciate the members of my administration joining me. Thank you all for being here.
My most solemn duty is to protect our country. It's our most solemn duty, as well. In the three years since our country was attacked, we've taken steps to overcome new threats. We will continue to do everything in our power to defeat the terrorist enemy and to protect the American people.
Recently, the commission on the terrorist attacks upon the United
States came to a conclusion that I share: that our country is safer
than it was on September the 11th, 2001, yet, we're still not safe.
The commission members have worked hard and served our country well. I
speak for all Americans in thanking them for their fine work.
Their recommendations are thoughtful and valuable. My
administration has already taken numerous actions consistent with the
commission's recommendations. Today, we're taking additional steps.
Our government's actions against the terrorist threat accelerated
dramatically after the attacks on the country. Across the world, we've
aggressively pursued al Qaeda terrorists, destroyed their training
camps and ended their sanctuaries.
We're working closely with other countries to gather intelligence
and to make arrests and to cut off terrorist finances. We've created a
new unified Department of Homeland Security and gave it resources and
the authority to defend America. We're employing the latest equipment
and know-how to secure our borders, air and sea ports and
infrastructure. We're bringing the best technologies to bear against
the threat of chemical and biological warfare. Project Bioshield will
fund cutting-edge drugs and other defenses against a biological,
chemical, or radiological attack.
To track terrorists and disrupt their cells and seize their assets,
we're using the tools of the Patriot Act. Congress needs to extend
this important law. Congress needs to make sure law enforcement have
the tools necessary to defend the country. We've transformed the FBI
to focus on the prevention of terrorist attacks. We're continuing to
expand and strengthen the capabilities of the Central Intelligence
Agency. We established the Terrorist Threat Integration Center to
merge and analyze in a single place foreign and domestic intelligence
on global terror.
Yet, the work of securing this vast nation is not done. The elevation of the threat level in New York and New Jersey and Washington, D.C. is a serious reminder, a solemn reminder of the threat we continue to face. All the institutions of our government must be
fully prepared for a struggle against terror that will last into the
future. Our goal is an integrated, unified national intelligence
effort. Therefore, my administration will continue moving forward with
additional changes to the structure and organization of our
Many of these changes are specific recommendations of the 9/11
Commission. Other will go further than the proposal of the
commission's report. All these reforms have a single goal: We will
ensure that the people in government responsible for defending America
and countering terrorism have the best possible information to make the
Today I'm asking Congress to create the position of a National
Intelligence Director. That person -- the person in that office will
be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the
Senate, and will serve at the pleasure of the President. The National
Intelligence Director will serve as the President's principal
intelligence advisor and will oversee and coordinate the foreign and
domestic activities of the intelligence committee. Under this
reorganization, the CIA will be managed by a separate Director. The
National Intelligence Director will assume the broader responsibility
of leading the intelligence community across our government.
I want, and every President must have, the best, unbiased,
unvarnished assessment of America's intelligence professionals.
Creating the position of the National Intelligence Director will
require a substantial revision of the 1947 National Security Act. I
look forward to working with the members of Congress to move ahead on
this important reform.
The 9/11 Commission also made several recommendations about
Congress, itself. I strongly agree with the commission's
recommendation that oversight and intelligence -- oversight of
intelligence and of the homeland security must be restructured and made
more effective. There are too many committees with overlapping
jurisdiction, which wastes time and makes it difficult for meaningful
oversight and reform.
Today, I also announce that we will establish a National
Counter-Terrorism Center. This new center will build on the analytical
work, the really good analytical work of the Terrorist Threat
Integration Center, and will become our government's knowledge bank for
information about known and suspected terrorists. The new center will
coordinate and monitor counter-terrorism plans and activities of all
government agencies and departments to ensure effective joint action,
and that our efforts are unified in priority and purpose. The center
will also be responsible for preparing the daily terrorism threat
report for the President and senior officials.
The Director of the National Counterterrorism Center will report to
the National Intelligence Director, once that position is created.
Until then, the center will report to the Director of the CIA. Given
the growing threat of weapons and missile proliferation in our world,
it may also be necessary to create a similar center in our government
to bring together our intelligence analysis planning and operations to
track and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
I asked the commission headed by Judge Laurence Silberman and
Senator Chuck Robb to determine the merits of creating such a center.
This nation must do everything we can to keep the world's most
destructive weapons out of the world's most dangerous hands.
Finally, we will act on other recommendations made by the
commission. In coming days, I'll issue a series of directives to
various departments to underscore and further outline essential steps
for the U.S. government on the war on terror. All relevant agencies
must complete the task of adopting common databases and procedures so
that intelligence and homeland security information can be shared and
searched effectively, consistent with privacy and civil liberties.
At the same time, the FBI Director will continue his restructuring
of the bureau to create a specialized work force for collecting and
analyzing domestic intelligence on terrorism. The acting CIA Director
will continue to increase efforts already underway to strengthen human
intelligence and analytical capabilities.
The dedicated, hardworking men and women of our intelligence
community are laboring every day to keep our country safe. I'm proud
of their work, and so should our American citizens. We're in their
debt, we're grateful for them. And the changes we're making are
designed to help the professionals carry out their essential missions,
as best as they possibly can. I'll work closely with the Congress to
ensure that reform does not disrupt their daily work. We've got good
people working hard to protect America. We don't want these efforts to
step -- to get in the way of their efforts to protect our fellow
We are a nation in danger. We're doing everything we can in our
power to confront the danger. We're making good progress in protecting
our people and bringing our enemies to account. But one thing is for
certain: We'll keep our focus and we'll keep our resolve and we will
do our duty to best secure our country.
I'll answer a couple of questions today. Scott, have you got one?
Q Yes, Mr. President. First, I'd like to ask you what the
level of urgency is here on those actions that require congressional
approval. They're out on recess until Labor Day. Can you envision
calling them back into special session? And, also, you've got a terror
warning, as you said, in three cities. How do you react, without
tipping the bad guys off and without turning the country into a
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the first question is -- the Congress has
been thinking about some of these ideas. They can think about them
over August and come back and act on them in September. We look
forward to working with them. Not only the creation of the National
Intelligence Director, how to do it the right way, but also the 9/11
Commission had some very constructive suggestions for congressional
reform. I think Tom told me one time he -- how many different
committees have you testified in front of?
SECRETARY RIDGE: Well, 140 times our leadership was up there last
THE PRESIDENT: He testified 140 different times.
SECRETARY RIDGE: Leadership.
THE PRESIDENT: And --
SECRETARY RIDGE: The leadership -- under secretaries --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I mean, it's a lot of -- he's got a lot of
jurisdictions up there, and so he goes committee, subcommittee, this
committee, that committee. I mean, it seems like it's one thing to
testify, and there to be oversight, it's another thing to make sure
that the people who are engaged in protecting America don't spend all
their time testifying. And so there's going to be some important
reforms. We look forward to working with Congress on the reforms.
The second part of your two-part question?
Q In a situation like this -- in a situation like this, where
you have this new terror alert, how do you react without tipping off
the terrorists and having them move to different targets, and how do
you avoid turning the country into a fortress?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. I think we have an
obligation to inform the people involved with protecting New York City,
in this case, or parts of Jersey, or parts of D.C. about what we know.
We have an obligation. When we find out something, we've got to share
it. What we're talking about here is a very serious matter based upon
sound intelligence. And I would hope the people affected in New York
realize that by sharing intelligence we can better prepare in case
something were to happen.
In other words, if we were just silent on the subject, I think -- I
think people would be a lot more nervous. They would say, what is
government withholding, why weren't they sharing stuff with the people
responsible -- Commissioner Kelly, or Mayor Bloomberg? So our attitude
is, we try to be as transparent as possible with the affected sites so
that people can then take responses necessary to better protect the
But it's serious business. We wouldn't be contacting authorities
at the local level unless something was real. And what this points up
to is that there's an enemy which hates what we stand for. And it's a
different kind of war. And it's one that we're just going to have to
continue to work on, and will -- do the very best we can to protect the
Q Mr. President, some of your own advisors oppose creation of a
National Intelligence Director. Why did you override their
objections? And will you give the new director sweeping budget
THE PRESIDENT: Because I thought it was the right thing to do,
Adam. And the good thing about having an administration full of
competent, capable, intelligence people is that I get all different
kinds of opinions. The best decision-making process is one where
people have different opinions, and they bring them to me in a
forthright way, and then I make the decision about what I think is
best. And I think that the new National Intelligence Director ought to
be able to coordinate budgets. I certainly hope Congress reforms its
budget process, too, so that it's a seamless process.
Secondly, the National Intelligence Director will work with the
respective agencies to set priorities. But let me make it also very
clear that when it comes to operations, the chain of command will be
intact. When the Defense Department is conducting operations to secure
the homeland, there'll be nothing in between the Secretary of Defense
and me. I believe this system will serve our country well as we head
into the depths of the 21st century. As I said in my remarks here,
that this struggle against these thugs will go on for a while, and
therefore we've just got to do everything we can to be better
Q Mr. President, thank you. All of this as you know is coming
in the context of the presidential election campaign. Your opponent
has made a couple of charges that I would like your response to. One,
essentially saying that three years after the 9/11 attacks, to go about
the business of rehauling the intelligence community is too long.
Second, there's been a suggestion from the Kerry camp today that this
administration is actually responsible for fueling the recruitment of
al Qaeda through some of its policies, particularly -- they didn't say
this directly -- but the war in Iraq. Your response?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's a misunderstanding of the war on
terror. Obviously, we have a clear -- a difference of opinion, a clear
difference of opinion about the stakes that face America. These people
we face are cold-blooded, committed killers. They're interested in
destroying our way of life. They were interested in destroying our way
of life before I arrived in office. The only way to deal with these
people is to bring them to justice.
See, evidently some must think that you can negotiate with them,
you can talk sense to them, you can hope that they change. That's not
what I know. I know in order to deal with these people we must bring
them to justice before they hurt us again. And so we're on the
offense. We will stay -- the best way to protect the American homeland
is to stay on the offense. It is a ridiculous notion to assert that
because the United States is on the offense, more people want to hurt
us. We are on the offense because people do want to hurt us.
The other part of your question was, what, sir?
Q Why wait three years after the 9/11 attacks to call for this
kind of reform? Senator Kerry has said that's too long.
THE PRESIDENT: We have implemented significant reforms since
9/11. The FBI is reformed, and Director Mueller is doing a fabulous
job. The communications between the FBI and the CIA are -- have been
enhanced by the creation of what's called TTIC, the Terrorist Threat
Integration Center. We moved quickly to make sure that there is a
seamless spread of information throughout our government. We created
-- called for and worked with Congress to create the Department of
Homeland Security. Not everybody in Congress agreed with how that
Department ought to be set up. But we got it set up, and not only
that, under Secretary Ridge we have implemented the integration of
multiple agencies to better protect the homeland. We've done a lot
since September the 11th.
Let's see here. Jay Newton Small. How are you?
Q Good, and you?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm fine.
Q Mr. President, the 9/11 Commission originally recommended
that the National Intelligence Director be part of the executive
office, part of the executive branch. Why the change? Why make it
part of -- with congressional oversight?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't think that person ought to be a
member of my Cabinet. I will hire the person, and I can fire the
person, which is -- any President would like. That's how you have
accountability in government. 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. I think it's going to be one of the
most useful aspects of the National Intelligence Director.
Let's see. John, or Mike. Why don't you, and then John Cochran.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You saw that Doctors Without
Borders pulled out of Afghanistan because it was too dangerous. You've
seen reports about the re-formed Taliban. Why is the situation,
security situation there so poor? What do you see as the trajectory of
it? And, Mr. President, do you worry that you should have given more
attention to Iran earlier?
THE PRESIDENT: First, let me address Afghanistan. I did see that
the Doctors Without Borders left, and I'm sorry they did, because they
were providing an important function for the people who want to live in
a free society. I also saw, at the same time, that there's over, I
think it's 9 million Afghan citizens have registered to vote. That's
an unbelievable statement, isn't it? Do you remember when we were here
-- I can't remember, at one of my press conferences, we had a
discussion about this, but there was some concern that, well, maybe
they're not going to get even the 3 million people registered to vote
in Afghanistan. Or maybe it was -- some minimal threshold. I think
we're over 9 million now?
SECRETARY RIDGE: Yes, just about 9 million.
THE PRESIDENT: Nine million people have said to the world, we love
freedom and we're going to vote. Now, the Taliban still roams in parts
of the country, and we're working with the Afghan government to bring
them to justice. These are similar to the killers in Iraq; they'll
lurk in shadows and come out and kill indiscriminately.
Do you remember they pulled the women off the bus? They got the
bus, they stopped and said everybody -- the women with voter
registration cards step off, and they killed them. Nevertheless, the
Afghan people refuse to be intimidated. They're showing up in droves
to vote. A free society is emerging in that part of the world.
In Iran, we are paying very close attention to Iran. We have ever
since I've been in office here. We are working with our friends to
keep the pressure on the mullahs to listen to the demands of the free
world. And we're working with the -- hold on a second, please. Excuse
me. We're working with the IAEA to keep the pressure on Iran, and the
Secretary is working very closely with the foreign ministers of France,
Great Britain and Germany, who are taking it upon themselves to make it
clear that the demands of Europe are also equal to -- the same as the
demands of the United States, that we expect there to be full
disclosure, full transparency of their nuclear weapons programs.
Yes, Suzanne. Suzanne.
Q Do you think the intelligence was --
THE PRESIDENT: Suzanne.
Q Mr. President, your opponent, John Kerry, has called for a
complete endorsement of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. How do
your actions today differ from his own in ensuring national security?
And what can the American people see in the days to come, either feel
or see, to know that they are better protected?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, when we put out a threat alert like we did
yesterday, and then work with folks at the local jurisdictions to
respond, the American people need to know that, one, our intelligence
gathering is doing its job -- the intelligence gatherers are doing
their job. And, secondly, the response mechanism is fast. And they
need to know their government -- there are thousands of people working
overtime to not only find data, but analyze data, and then take the
steps necessary to protect, as best as we possibly can. This is a big
country. We're a free country, and as I've said many times, we've got
to be a hundred percent correct, they're got to be correct once. But
the people need to know that we're taking action on actionable
First part of the -- the 9/11 -- listen, my job is to take a look
at what I think is right, and to build on that which we've already
done. We've already done a lot. Take a good look at what has taken
place since 9/11, and I think you'll be -- as a citizen, concerned
about your own safety, I think you'll be pleased. And the question is,
how do we do more? We're more than happy to do more.
Last question. Deans.
Q Yes, sir. Mr. President, would you say -- can you say what
you regard as the model for this National Intelligence Director? Is it
the Fed, would it be the Joint Chiefs of Staff? And in what way would
this new structure prevent the kind of intelligence failings that
preceded the war in Iraq with respect to weapons, difficulty of the
opposition faced, and those sorts of things?
THE PRESIDENT: Not like the Fed. More like the Joint Chiefs,
because the Joint Chiefs have got a -- even though not a part of the
chain of command, they are affected by the chain of command.
And the second part of the -- oh, why would this -- listen, let me
talk about the intelligence in Iraq. First of all, we all thought we
would find stockpiles of weapons. We may still find weapons. We
haven't found them yet. Every person standing up here would say, gosh,
we thought it was going to be different, as did the Congress, by the
way, members of both parties, and the United Nations. But what we do
know is that Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons.
And let me just say this to you: Knowing what I know today, we
still would have gone on into Iraq. We still would have gone to make
our country more secure. He had the capability of making weapons. He
had terrorist ties. The decision I made was the right decision. The
world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. And I find it
interesting, in the political process, that some say, well, I voted for
the intelligence, and now they won't say whether or not it was the
right decision to take Saddam Hussein out. It's the right decision,
and the world is better off for it.
Listen, thank you all.
END [8:58 A.M. PDT]