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Bush reassures CIA employees about agency
Updated: 2005-03-04 09:26

US President Bush promised CIA employees on Thursday they would retain an "incredibly vital" role in safeguarding the nation's security despite a reorganization that diminishes the agency's 60-year dominance of the intelligence community.

"I know there's some uncertainty about what this reform means to the people of the CIA. And I wanted to assure them that the reforms will strengthen their efforts and make it easier for them to do their job, not harder," Bush told reporters during a morale-boosting visit to the spy agency.

US President Bush talks to reporters after he received an intelligence briefing at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va., near Washington, Thursday, March 3, 2005. He is joined by Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss at left. [AP]
US President Bush talks to reporters after he received an intelligence briefing at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va., near Washington, Thursday, March 3, 2005. He is joined by Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss at left. [AP]
Bush's trip came a day after CIA Director Porter Goss complained publicly that the new law had "a huge amount of ambiguity in it," creating confusion about his relationship with John Negroponte, Bush's nominee to the new post of national director of intelligence, and with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Negroponte, if confirmed by the Senate, would have sweeping authority over 15 different intelligence agencies.

White House aides said Bush's visit had been planned before Goss's remarks, delivered in a speech on Wednesday in Simi Valley, Calif. However, the CIA tour was added to Bush's public schedule only late Wednesday.

Out of earshot of reporters, Bush spoke to a large assembly of CIA employees, drawing loud cheers. He also received a private intelligence briefing.

In his remarks to reporters, Bush reiterated that the hunt goes on for Osama bin Laden, the terrorist blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We spend every day gathering information to locate Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and obviously people like Zarqawi," Bush said. Ayman al-Zawahri is bin Laden's top deputy. Musab al-Zarqawai is the top al-Qaida figure in Iraq.

"One of the reasons I came out here was to remind people that we've had great successes" in running down other al-Qaida leaders. "But there is more work to be done. ... It's a matter of time before we bring those people to justice."

With Goss at this side, Bush said he had discussed the jurisdiction issue with the CIA director "because I don't want there to be any interruption of intelligence coming to the White House, and there won't be."

He noted that Goss comes to the White House each morning to brief him personally on the latest intelligence developments, "and that, of course, will go on."

Furthermore, Bush said, "we don't even have Ambassador Negroponte confirmed yet. In other words, it's hard to implement reforms without somebody being the reformer. And so, the process is ongoing."

Negroponte's last posting was as ambassador to Iraq.

"One of the purposes of the whole process is to make sure that information flows are smooth and that efforts are coordinated," Bush said. While noting that the CIA would remain "the center of the intelligence community," he said "there's a lot of other intelligence-gathering operations around government."

"And the job of Ambassador Negroponte is to take the information and make sure it is coordinated," he said.

Bush said he came to the CIA "to assure the people here that their contribution was incredibly vital to the security of the United States, and together we've achieved a lot in securing this country."

Bush talked about the hunt for the elusive bin Laden in response to a reporter's question at the CIA, but he also brought up the subject himself earlier in the day at a swearing-in ceremony. Bush called efforts to block the terrorist leader's hope of attacking America again "the greatest challenge of our day."

Bin Laden's trail has gone cold more than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and Bush hardly ever utters the name of the man he once declared was wanted "dead or alive" and repeatedly promised would be caught.

But bin Laden made the headlines again this week when intelligence officials said that he has enlisted the help of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the top al-Qaida figure in Iraq, to plan attacks inside the United States.

At the ceremonial swearing-in for the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Mike Chertoff, Bush confirmed that contact between bin Laden and al-Zarqawi.

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