Sept. 11 panel presses reforms

WASHINGTON – The leaders of the Sept. 11 commission implored Congress to move quickly to reform the nation’s intelligence structure, warning Friday that failure to act would leave America vulnerable to another devastating terrorist attack.

A working group appointed by President Bush also continued its meetings Friday, and a senior White House official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said it was close to presenting a package of reforms to Bush.

The unusual hearing – coming during summer recess on Capitol Hill – focused on two of the commission’s most complex proposals: the creation of a new national counterterrorism center and a new national intelligence director to oversee the 15-agency intelligence community.

“We have concluded the intelligence community is not going to get its job done unless somebody really is in charge,” said Lee Hamilton, the Democratic vice chairman on the commission. “That is just not the case now, and we have paid the price.”

Thomas Kean, the commission’s Republican chairman, described a litany of failures by the intelligence community in the months preceding the 2001 terror attacks against New York and Washington, D.C. He attributed failures to a profound lack of coordination across intelligence agencies.

“No one was the quarterback, no one was calling the plays,” Kean said. He said that in the proposed reorganization, “each agency needs to give up some of their existing turf and some of their authority.”

Kean said an assertion by recently departed CIA Director George Tenet that it will take five years to reform intelligence was “unacceptable.”

However, Kean and Hamilton praised reforms already undertaken by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has sought to transform the bureau’s priority from criminal investigations to counterterrorism.

Senators pledged to quickly but thoughtfully consider the commission’s proposals.

The proposal for a new intelligence director, and establishing a counterterrorism center that could be run out of the White House, likely would take power away from two dominant forces in the intelligence community, the CIA and the Defense Department.

Other commission proposals include disclosing now-classified intelligence budget figures and institutionalizing changes ongoing at the FBI.

Congressional aides also are examining a series of issues related to the proposals. Among them:

* What role will the national intelligence director have in setting policy, not traditionally the territory of intelligence officials?

* Will that person brief the president?

* Should the individual be on the Cabinet? How will its deputies and other related offices be structured?

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