WASHINGTON — President Bush's new executive order revising rules for intelligence agencies expands the national intelligence director's powers and may further erode the CIA's traditional autonomy.
The order, revised in secret and signed Wednesday, is drawing criticism from civil liberties groups and even lawmakers from the president's own party.
House Republicans on the intelligence committee walked out of a Thursday morning briefing by the national intelligence director, Mike McConnell, on the order to protest what they consider the White House's pattern of disrespect for congressional oversight.
The committee believes it has not been consulted or informed about critical intelligence matters. These include the executive order; Israel's bombing of an alleged Syrian nuclear facility last summer; changes in U.S. intelligence on Iran; the administration's warrantless wiretapping program; and the CIA's destruction of interrogation videotapes.
"This president is making it impossible for Congress to do oversight of the intelligence community," the committee's top Republican, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, told The Associated Press. "The only effective oversight that can be done is out of the executive branch. And this is the fox guarding the chicken coop."
The revisions to an executive order first issued by President Reagan in 1981 reflect organizational changes in the intelligence agencies after the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush's order lays out the relationships among 16 intelligence agencies.
The work was carried for more than a year amid a national debate, spurred by the wiretapping program, about the appropriate balance between civil liberties and security.
The American Civil Liberties Union quickly condemned the order after its release Thursday, saying it seems to authorize the intelligence agencies to focus more on domestic spying than before.
"We have secret laws governing secret agencies that are engaging in secret spying against Americans, and they're using our own tax dollars to do it. This isn't keeping us safer it's only making all Americans suspects in the eyes of the government," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's legislative office in Washington.
The order directs the attorney general to develop guidelines so intelligence agencies have access to information held by other agencies. That potentially could include the sharing of sensitive information about Americans.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the revision maintains protections for civil liberties that were in the original order. Critics note that Bush's domestic wiretapping program, which some argue was illegal, occurred despite those stated protections.
At the intelligence agencies, there are questions about what practical changes the new order will bring.
For 50 years, the CIA has set the policy and largely called the shots on pursuing and managing relationships with foreign intelligence and security services, many of which provide critical intelligence to the United States.
But the latest version of Executive Order 12333 gives the national intelligence director new power to oversee those relationships, including how much information and the type of information to be shared with a foreign government; the CIA still will carry out day-to-day contacts. The intelligence director is also gaining oversight of covert operations, an area where the CIA has been the traditional authority.
Exactly how disagreements will be worked out between the two is to be determined.
CIA Director Michael Hayden told agency employees in an e-mail message Thursday that CIA officers on "the front lines" will have "a strong voice" in working out the new procedures.
"Issues such as operational coordination and the management of foreign liaison relationships can indeed be complex. But in our profession, the guiding standard is one of common sense. The best solutions are those that get the job done most effectively."
Hayden assured agency employees that the CIA will press hard to protect its interests as new rules and directives flow from the executive order that could change daily operations. In the meantime, however, he told them to carry on as usual.
"Intelligence is, at its core, a practical calling. That, by definition, means a strong voice for those on the front lines, those who do the day-to-day substantive work of intelligence," Hayden wrote.
The executive order gives the national intelligence director, a position created in 2005, new authority over intelligence information collected that pertains to more than one agency. That is an attempt to force greater information exchange among agencies traditionally reluctant to share their most prized intelligence.
The order maintains the decades-old prohibitions on assassination and using unwitting human subjects for scientific experiments, according to a power point briefing given to Congress that was reviewed by The Associated Press. The CIA tested LSD on human subjects in the 1950s, which a Senate investigation revealed in 1977.
The order also gives the national intelligence director's office new power of the purse: It was granted the authority to make acquisition decisions on certain national intelligence programs.
On the New:
Executive order: http://tinyurl.com/66duv4
(This version CORRECTS that ACLU condemned order after it was released.)