Remarks on Intelligence
Reform and the 9/11 Commission
August 2, 2004
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
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 intelligence agencies.
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 best decisions.
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
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
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
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
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 citizens.
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
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 fortress?
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 year.
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 people.
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
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 prepared.
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
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
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
Let's see. John, or Mike. Why don't you, and then John
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
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
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
Listen, thank you all.
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