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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush said Friday that FBI and CIA counterterrorism analysts will work under a single roof to strengthen efforts to detect and prevent terrorist attacks.
"The goal is to develop a comprehensive picture of terrorist activity," Bush said in a speech at FBI headquarters. "We're collecting a lot of information and we're going to share it in a way that enables us to do our jobs as you expect us to do."
Bush was extolling a new Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which will begin work May 1 at the CIA's headquarters in northern Virginia. It eventually will relocate to a yet-to-be chosen, separate facility and will grow from 60 to 300 government employees, according to new details of a plan Bush announced last month in his State of the Union address.
Although the center itself will report directly to CIA Director George Tenet, the FBI employees working there will remain under the authority of FBI Director Robert Mueller. The center's job will be to analyze foreign and domestic intelligence collected throughout the government to better "connect the dots" and prevent future terrorist attacks.
The center, according to the White House, "will have unfettered access to all terrorist threat intelligence information, from raw reports to finished analytic assessments, available to the U.S. government."
The FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies have undergone sharp criticism for missing warning signs prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Some members of Congress have called for taking domestic counterterrorism duties away from the FBI entirely, but Bush's proposal stops short of that.
Bush said the FBI and CIA are cooperating as never before and that the FBI in particular "now understands that we're at war and the first responsibility of an incredibly important agency, the FBI, is to prevent the enemy from hitting us and hurting us."
Civil liberties and privacy groups have raised concerns about the CIA working so closely with the FBI, especially with the CIA chief overseeing any domestic intelligence operations. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, senior Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said at a hearing Friday that there are serious questions about "the wisdom of expanding the role of the director of central intelligence in domestic intelligence."
The White House says all current privacy and legal protections will apply to the new center, which will analyze but not actually collect intelligence. The center's chief -- appointed by Tenet -- will have the authority to give collection agencies orders on what information to seek.
The new center also will maintain a database of known and suspected terrorists to be shared with state and local law enforcement officials. The focus will be on blending the analysis capabilities of the FBI counterterrorism division and the CIA counterterrorist center.
The center's analysis will become a key part of the new Homeland Security Department's work to ensure that terrorist threats are matched against vulnerable areas within the United States and that the public, government and industry.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, said the proposal's success depends on cooperation rather than rivalries that have existed between the FBI and CIA in the past and a willingness by the federal government to share information with state and local officials.
"The integration center must be structured in such a way that it breaks through the bureaucratic barriers that exist among intelligence agencies, not hide behind them," Collins said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)