President Bush says the American intelligence community must implement more reforms in order to meet the challenges of the war on terrorism. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports he spoke at the ceremonial swearing-in of the nation's new intelligence director.
Mike McConnell becomes America's national intelligence director at a crucial time.
The retired vice admiral and former head of the National Security Agency is charged with coordinating the work of more than a dozen government intelligence entities, and serving as the president's top intelligence advisor.
One immediate issue facing McConnell is tracking the evolution of al-Qaida, the group responsible for the September 11th 2001 attacks on the United States.
There are media reports al-Qaida - the initial target in the war on terror - is rebuilding and establishing a new base of operations in Pakistan along the Afghan border.
President Bush, speaking at McConnell's ceremoning swearing-in, focused on the need to remain vigilant.
"Mike's long experience gives him a unique understanding of the threats we face in this new century," he said. "He knows that the terrorists who struck America on September the 11th, 2001 are determined to strike our nation again."
The president said he wants McConnell to improve information-sharing within the intelligence community, and to focus on finding more agents who speak critical languages, such as Arabic and Persian.
McConnell said recruiting such operatives is crucial, and vowed to do away with outdated hiring practices
"The old policies have hampered some common-sense reforms, such as hiring first-and-second-generation Americans who possess native language skills, cultural insights and a keen understanding of the threats we face," he said.
Neither the president nor McConnell directly addressed the question of al-Qaida's presence along the Pakistan-Afghan border. At a briefing for reporters, White House Spokesman Tony Snow also refused to talk about specifics. But he emphatically rejected the notion that the Bush administration is not concentrating enough on tracking and breaking up the terrorist network.
"They have been badly disorganized," he said. "But it is also clear they are determined people who are going to try to re-organize and we are every bit as determined to chase them down and make a difference."
Snow said al-Qaida is an organization that is amorphous and tends to move around. He said it remains a significant terror threat, and the administration is continuing to do what is necessary to meet the threat.