US President George W. Bush has given his national intelligence director greater powers to manage rival US spy agencies as part of an overhaul driven by past intelligence failures, White House documents released Thursday show.
The authorities were spelled out in revised executive order 12333, which Bush signed on Wednesday, carrying out reforms enacted four years ago in the wake of intelligence fiascos involving Iraq and the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"This is the first significant adjustment in the executive order in several decades," a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Officials said the new order retains bans on assassinations of foreign leaders, limits on human experimentation, and protections of civil rights of US nationals contained in the original order, which was signed in 1981 by then president Ronald Reagan.
The most significant changes focus on the role of the director of national intelligence, or DNI, a post created under a 2004 law that took overall responsibility for US intelligence away from the Central Intelligence Agency.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a former CIA director, said the changes went beyond the earlier reforms "in terms of empowering the DNI without weakening others."
He said that "will make it an enduring achievement" that will last beyond the terms of the current intelligence and defense chiefs.
CIA director Michael Hayden called the changes "a positive development."
"Sound coordination among American agencies is an absolute prerequisite to successful intelligence collection --one in which CIA has both an obvious interest and extensive expertise," he said in a message to staff.
The CIA remains in charge of espionage under the revised order, which assigns the agency the role of "functional manager" for human intelligence.
The CIA also remains the one agency permitted to conduct covert actions, with the exceptions of the military in time of war or "unless the president determines that another agency is more likely to achieve a particular objective."
But the director of national intelligence is responsible for overseeing and advising the president on all ongoing and proposed covert action programs under the revised order.
The National Security Council will present proposals for covert action to the president with all dissents, the order said.
The DNI is authorized to have access to all information gathered by the 16 intelligence services in the US government, and to decide what agencies can get it, the documents show.
That authority is designed to discourage intelligence agencies from refusing to share intelligence that they have collected, a chronic problem.
The changes also give the DNI new authorities in the hiring and firing of the heads of intelligence services that fall under the Pentagon and other departments, increasing his influence over the leaders of subordinate agencies.
And it authorizes the national intelligence director to enter into intelligence and counter-intelligence agreements with foreign governments and international organizations, an area that had been exclusive purview of the CIA.
However, the order also says the CIA will "conduct foreign intelligence liaison relationships with intelligence or security services of foreign governments or international organizations."
Senior administration officials said there would be no practical change in the CIA's current position as the main link to foreign spy agencies.
One official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said that although DNI has assigned his representatives to some overseas military commands, CIA station chiefs continue to be the lead intelligence officer in foreign countries.
"I think in a 100 percent of other cases the DNI's representative in a foreign capital is the same person as the director of Central Intelligence Agency's representatives, known as the chief of station," the official said.