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Reception to the 9/11 Commission’s Recommendations

July 23, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: The recommendations announced yesterday by the 9/11 Commission would be the most sweeping changes in national security structure and intelligence-gathering since the creation of the current system after World War II. Commission Chairman Tom Kean urged quick action.

THOMAS KEAN: Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude is now possible and even probable. We do not have the luxury of time. We must prepare, and we must act.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Commission recommended the creation of a top-level national intelligence director to oversee the work of 15 separate intelligence- gathering agencies currently under the control of the CIA, the Department of Defense, and the FBI; the establishment of a national counterterrorism center in the White House to integrate and improve intelligence from all the agencies and plan joint operations. Commissioner Jim Thompson:

JIM THOMPSON: If I were the President of the United States, I would want sitting next to me, in a cabinet meeting, a national director of intelligence so that I could fix responsibility in one person for issues of this sort. And I would want those counterterrorism center people down the hallway.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Commission did not recommend a new domestic intelligence agency, as many predicted, but it did stress the need for a new national security workforce within the FBI, consisting of career agents, analysts, linguists, and surveillance specialists.

The Commission called for stronger congressional oversight with either a joint or separate intelligence committees that would make the intelligence budget public. It also recommended a new global strategy to use diplomacy, economic aid, and public relations to combat terrorist networks and their appeal.

On the domestic front, the Commission urged setting national standards for issuance of drivers’ licenses and birth certificates; developing biometric identifiers on passports to screen travelers at ports and borders; and improving no-fly and other terrorist watch lists. But at yesterday’s news conference, commissioners differed on when and if their recommendations would be implemented. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey had doubts.

BOB KERREY: These are changes in law that we’re asking for, changes in law that will give those who apparently have responsibility the authority necessary to carry out their job, and it will require members of Congress in some cases to give up committee assignments that they currently have that they love.

And in my experience in politics, when somebody’s asked to give up something, they will come up with all kinds of reasons other than the most important one, which is they don’t want to surrender authority, to cite for why they won’t want to do it. And I am hopeful that the circumstances surrounding this commission will cause Congress to act differently, but I am not optimistic.

KWAME HOLMAN: Commissioner Jim Thompson issued this warning should changes not be enacted quickly.

JIM THOMPSON: If something bad happens while these recommendations are sitting there, the American people will quickly fix political responsibility for failure, and that responsibility may last for generations.

KWAME HOLMAN: A Senate committee has scheduled the first hearings on the recommendations for the first week in August.