Bush orders FBI, CIA to build new terror intelligence office

Pieces of the nation's foreign and domestic intelligence operations will be fused into an intelligence super center under an executive order announced by President Bush in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

To close the "seam" between the analysis of foreign and domestic intelligence on terrorism, the president has instructed the directors of the FBI and the CIA, as well as the secretaries of the Defense and Homeland Security departments and the attorney general, to develop a Terrorist Threat Integration Center. The center is necessary "to merge and analyze all threat information in a single location," Bush said. It would examine information collected in the United States and abroad to "form the most comprehensive…picture" of the threats posed by terrorists, according to a White House statement.

The FBI's counterterrorism division and the CIA's counterterrorist center will create the new center by merging with elements of Defense and Homeland Security that will be determined later by a multi-agency task force. The new organization would analyze terrorist threats, create a structure to ensure information is shared among agencies and provide threat assessments to government leaders.

The center also would be responsible for some major security enhancements advocated for several years by lawmakers, intelligence experts and federal officials. It will "play a lead role" in designing and maintaining a shared database of terrorism information, the White House said. The center also would maintain and keep current a database of known and suspected terrorists that would be accessible to federal officials, nonfederal officials and organizations. Finally, to carry out these tasks, the center would have access to all government intelligence information, whether in the form of raw reports or finished analyses.

An intelligence commission chaired by former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore advised this action in a report issued in December. Among the 59 recommendations the commission made to the administration was the creation of a National Counter Terrorism Center, which would synthesize intelligence from Defense, the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency, as well as state and local governments.

The FBI has struggled to evolve from its traditional law enforcement mission, which has kept most agents busy investigating crimes in the United States, to a counterterrorism agency that depends on foreign intelligence information as well as classic shoe leather detective work to penetrate terrorist cells. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller has made counterterrorism the bureau's top priority, and CIA intelligence analysts have been detailed to the agency to help in strengthening its analysis capabilities. CIA analysts also sit on the joint terrorism task forces established by the FBI in more than 50 cities nationwide.

The FBI's experience with intelligence analysis is historically weak, and for years the bureau has lacked the technology to disseminate and study information in its case files. This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee threw a hurdle in the FBI's way when it ordered the agency to submit a new funding package next month for its Trilogy project, a massive effort to replace antiquated computers and data networks. The $458 million project has been called a failure by some lawmakers and is over budget by more than $137 million, the Justice Department's inspector general said last month.

The new terrorist information center would be headed by a senior government official reporting to the director of the CIA, which raises the question of how much control over intelligence operations the FBI is being given, even in light of its expanding mission. Gregory Treverton, an analyst with the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., who has been a consultant for the FBI, said that it remains to be seen whether this reporting structure diminishes the authority of the FBI or the Homeland Security Department on matters of intelligence collection. The FBI has been given new powers since the Sept. 11 attacks to conduct surveillance of people inside the country, presumably enhancing its ability to collect intelligence.

But intelligence analysis is another matter, experts note. The administration envisions a Homeland Security division performing a major portion of the analysis. Phil Anderson, the homeland security director for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said one could argue this new integration center should have been placed within Homeland Security. Treverton said he would like to see more attention given to improving the department's analytic capabilities.

Treverton added that the new intelligence structure probably reflects some battling over turf among intelligence agencies. The CIA director, George Tenet, will not cede any of his authority over intelligence collection and analysis under the new plan, nor will his access to the president decrease. Quite the opposite, Anderson said. "It will probably strengthen his role and his visibility."

Meanwhile, the president hasn't nominated an undersecretary to head intelligence analysis efforts at Homeland Security. Early speculation was that John Gannon, the former deputy director for intelligence at the CIA, would be named to the post. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge asked Gannon to leave his private consulting practice and assist the administration in setting up the information analysis and infrastructure protection division, one of four major directorates. It is the only division for which no nominee for undersecretary has been named.