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President Bush Reacts to US Intelligence Reform Proposal - 2004-08-23

President Bush says he will consider all kinds of ideas to reform the nation's intelligence community, including the sweeping plan put forward by a key senator. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts says bold action is needed to restructure all the agencies involved in intelligence-gathering.

Senator Roberts took the White House and most of his congressional colleagues by surprise when he announced the plan on national television.

"This is a very bold plan. As I said, we didn't pay any attention to turf or agencies or boxes," he said. "We said all right, what are the national security threats that face this country today in an asymmetrical world and what do we face down the road."

His proposal calls for a complete restructuring of U.S. intelligence operations, including taking functions away from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department and putting them under a new national intelligence director.

Senator Roberts told the CBS television program Face the Nation that he is open to modifying the plan and sees it as a basis for negotiations. He said it already has the endorsement of all eight Republicans on the Senate intelligence panel.

"We have an urgent need to move, but we have got to get it right," he said. "This was not an idle thing. This was actually proposed by eight other members of the intelligence committee. It is at least a marker to start the debate."

He said the proposal builds on the work of the commission that investigated the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. President Bush has embraced many of the commission's recommendations, but has not advocated the kind of sweeping changes suggested by Senator Roberts. When asked about the Senator's plan by reporters at his Texas ranch the president said he is willing to consider all sorts of ideas.

"Senator Roberts is a good, thoughtful guy who came up with an idea and we will look at it," the president said. "We will take a look at it and determine whether or not it works or not. But there are going to be a lot of other ideas too as this debate goes forward."

Members of the 9/11 Commission are also studying the Roberts' proposal and are expected to give their views on Wednesday. However, officials from agencies that could be affected by the restructuring are already speaking out.

The director of the new Terrorist Threat Integration Center is among those urging caution. John Brennan was questioned about the matter during an appearance before a congressional panel.

"It is an extraordinary complex task to transform the intelligence community as well as the CIA itself," he said. "I think any effort to do that really needs to be a thoughtful one, a careful one, after considered options and thorough discussion."

Some top Democrats in Congress are raising similar concerns, and say they fear the Republicans want to push through partisan legislation. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has welcomed the Roberts plan, but his campaign has also warned that any attempt at intelligence reforms must be totally bipartisan.