New Counterterrorism Center Slowly Finds its Way
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
President Bush paid a visit to the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia, today. And he named his choice to be the center's new director, Vice Admiral John Scott Redd. The announcement may have been timed to quiet critics who've complained about the center. Until now, it hasn't had a permanent director, and it's nowhere near fully operational six months after it opened for business. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.
MARY LOUISE KELLY reporting:
The idea behind the National Counterterrorism Center is to create a central clearinghouse for analysis and operational planning, and to bring together people from the Defense Department, FBI, CIA and other agencies to share tips and expertise. Today, in a speech to about 200 staffers, President Bush said the Counterterrorism Center is doing crucial work, and that Scott Redd is the right man to lead it.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: He's a man of enormous experience. He has served our country with distinction. He'll be a good boss. He'll be a person that'll be able to carry on the tradition of John Brennan.
KELLY: John Brennan, who's served as interim chief these first six months. Brennan is a respected CIA veteran, but Roger Cressey, a White House counterterrorism official from `99 to 2001, says President Bush and national intelligence director John Negroponte may have decided they need someone with more political clout at the helm of the center known as the NCTC. Cressey says Redd fits the bill, a career Naval officer who's recently distinguished himself as executive director of the president's intelligence commission.
Mr. ROGER CRESSEY (Former White House Counterterrorism Official): So he knows his way around Washington. He has a very good reputation, and I think that reflects Negroponte's belief that you need to have someone with sufficient stature, someone who wore four stars on their shoulder, in order to really make NCTC a center of gravity, if you will, within the interagency process.
KELLY: Making the NCTC a center of gravity will, by many accounts, be a challenge. There have been persistent reports of the CIA and other agencies declining to share their top personnel with the fledgling center. The law that established the NCTC gave it overall authority for coordinating domestic and foreign intelligence on terrorism, but John Gannon, a former head of the National Intelligence Council, says established agencies, such as the FBI, aren't yet playing by the new rules.
Mr. JOHN GANNON (Former Head, National Intelligence Council): NCTC does not yet exercise the authorities that the 9/11 Commission or even the legislation intend for it to have. And in briefings I've had from NCTC, they defer to FBI.
KELLY: Roger Cressey, the former NSC official, admits the Counterterrorism Center has had some teething problems. But he argues NCTC will eventually be the top destination for ambitious analysts interested in terrorism because of its central role in strategic planning.
Mr. CRESSEY: For example, one of the key issues we're going to face in the coming years is how to deal with the migration of jihadis from the Iraqi battlefield to Europe, to Asia and elsewhere. Now this is an operational planning challenge, and NCTC is going to have to drive it. So if you're interested in how the terrorism threat's evolving to the United States, and want to be in a place where you can do something about it, NCTC should be that address for the foreseeable future.
KELLY: Scott Redd's appointment comes as the Bush administration moves to fill a number of key counterterrorism posts that have long sat empty. Just yesterday came word that Henry Crumpton has been chosen for the top counterterrorism job at the State Department. That's been vacant since November. Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.
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