Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld denied reports Tuesday that he privately campaigned against a proposed intelligence overhaul.
“I’m a part of this administration. I support the president’s position,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.
Some Republicans and Democrats in Congress have suggested Rumsfeld had a role in stopping the legislation, which is intended to create a national intelligence director position, because the Defense Department would lose authority over several intelligence agencies that are currently part of the military.
Military officials also have said that losing those agencies to civilian control would threaten the flow of information to soldiers in the field.
‘I favor reform’
Before President Bush announced his support for the creation of a national intelligence chief, Rumsfeld had expressed some reservations about proposed changes to the intelligence system, many of which were outlined in the report of the commission looking into the Sept. 11 attacks.
But on Tuesday, he said, “I favor reform in the intelligence community as the president does, and I have a feeling that they (in Congress) are close.”
Rumsfeld said he was not involved in the negotiations on the bill last weekend in Congress.
“What they’re in is a very complicated negotiation up there. And they’re trying to resolve a series of final four, five, six items, as I understand it,” he said.
He added, “But the president’s position is evolving as the negotiation evolves.” He did not elaborate.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, refused to back off a letter he wrote to Congress saying he preferred an earlier version of the legislation that “maintains this vital flow of resources through the secretary of defense to the combat-support agencies.”
“My position on the particular issue is as stated in my letter,” Myers said Tuesday.
Bush underscores call for action
In Texas, meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Bush “has made very clear that he believes the Congress needs to act on the intelligence bill. He has personally been very involved, as has the vice president, in urging members of Congress to move with intelligence reform.”
“Members of the senior staff and the legislative staff plan to participate in Republican retreats next week so we’re going to work very hard on this issue,” she said. “It’s something the president wants to get done.”
The intelligence legislation, which would create a new national intelligence director and national counterterrorism center, failed Saturday when Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter and James Sensenbrenner turned back a last-second deal.
No meetings of the bill’s negotiators have been planned, but the House and Senate scheduled Dec. 6-7 meetings just in case a deal is reached.
Bush lobbied House Republicans and said Sunday that “it was clear I wanted the bill passed.”
Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke against the bill in a GOP meeting Saturday afternoon.
Hunter, R-Calif., echoed Pentagon concerns that the realignment of intelligence authority could interfere with the military chain of command and endanger troops in the field. Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., demanded that the bill also deal with anti-terrorism laws and illegal immigration.