"White House and Bush campaign officials have long said that the details [of White House counterterrorism proposals] matter far less than the pictures and sounds of Mr. Bush talking in any way about his campaign against terrorism, which polls show is still his strongest card against Mr. Kerry," writes Elizabeth Bumiller in the Times today.
Ain't it the truth!
But wouldn't it be nice if we had a press which would make some effort to point out instances where the 'details' utterly belie what the president says he's doing?
The issue here is the president's supposed embrace of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, particularly on the creation of a new National Intelligence Director under whom the heads of the various intelligence agencies would operate.
I was working on another project pretty much constantly through most of the day and heard discussion of this on the cable networks, particularly CNN. What I heard there was that the president had embraced the commission's recommendation on this point while only disagreeing on whether this new head of national intelligence would be housed within the White House or have cabinet rank status outside the White House structure.
Yet it turns out that this is but one, and not at all the most significant way in which the policy the president has embraced differs from that of the commission. In fact, when you look closely at it, it's nothing like what the commission recommended at all. The president went out into the Rose Garden, said he was adopting the commission's proposals. But in fact he was doing close to the opposite, doing more or less what they said shouldn't be done.
The key point made by the commission, you'll remember, is that the new NDI would have to have budgetary authority across the various intelligence agencies and the ability to hire and fire senior managers. As the Times makes clear, the president's proposal does none of those. Indeed, the dailies do a pretty good job making this clear. The Post says that ...
Bush's statement embraced the two most significant of the 37 recommendations by the commission that investigated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but with significant limitations. Under his plan, the new intelligence chief would lack the authority over budgets, hiring and firing that the commission had envisioned.
If anything, though, even that doesn't quite do it justice.
You'll remember that we already have a national director of intelligence, someone in charge of overseeing the work of all the various American intelligence agencies. That person is the DCI, the Director of Central Intelligence.
The only problem is that for a variety of reasons, some intentional, some historical and some incidental, the DCI does not really serve that function. In fact, the current set-up can reasonably be viewed as a worst of both worlds scenario since the DCI doesn't have this broad supervisory function and yet -- as we saw in the Iraq WMD debate -- the DCI can improperly tilt joint national intelligence findings in favor of his agency, the CIA.
Now, if you go back and read the actual 9/11 Report you'll see that the commissioners description of the organizational shortcomings of the DCI post reads more or less exactly like the description of the new post the president outlined today.
I quote from page 410 ...
The current DCI is responsible for community performance but lacks the three authorities critical for any agency head or chief executive officer: (1) control
over purse strings, (2) the ability to hire or fire senior managers, and (3) the
ability to set standards for the information infrastructure and personnel.
And it gets better.
article notes that the president said that while the new NID wouldn't have full control of the purse strings, he or she would have a 'coordinating' role in budgeting.
Yet, in the very next paragraph of the report, the commissioners note how this doesn't cut it.
Again on page 410 (emphasis added) ...
The only budget power of the DCI over agencies other than the CIA lies
in coordinating the budget requests of the various intelligence agencies into a single program for submission to Congress.The overall funding request of the 15 intelligence entities in this program is then presented to the president and
Congress in 15 separate volumes.
Now, for what it's worth, I'm not at all happy with the way that the dynamics of the election year are rushing the process of adopting this list of recommendations which, at the end of the day, is still the product of a small group of people, done with relatively little open debate. But there's still the issue of truth in advertising and whether the press -- and particularly the electronic press -- only pays attention to the "pictures and sounds" rather than the details of what the White House is actually doing.
Tuesday editorial notes this ... well, how shall we say it ... lack of candor, but still refers to it in bland terms. Saith
: "Mr. Bush cast the plan he unveiled yesterday, to create a director of national intelligence and a national counterterrorism center, as embracing the commission's recommendations. In fact the administration's proposals differ in critical respects."
What's more, this is such a pattern for this White House that you'd think the Kerry campaign, and the Dems on the Hill, would get hold of this as a pretty manageable critique of this administration: That is, you just can't trust them.
What this White House says it's doing and what it's actually doing seldom turn out to be the same thing.