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9/11 Commissioners Ask Congress to Revamp U.S. Intelligence System

July 30, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins was first to schedule rare mid-summer hearings on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Since then more than a dozen other August hearings have been announced. Hosting the Commission’s chair and vice chair, Collins said the need for quick action is real, even if it meant senators such as Joseph Lieberman had to rush back to Washington from the Democratic Convention.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Madame Chairman, if I may say so in a phrase that may have been familiar, on behalf of this side, we are reporting for duty. ( Laughter )

KWAME HOLMAN: But Commission chairman Tom Kean insisted on the urgency of the situation.

THOMAS KEAN: We haven’t got a lot of time. We made hard recommendations; I mean, these recommendations… we didn’t go the easy route — to try to reorganize government, to talk about doing some things in the legislative body, these are very hard things to do and we recognized that they were hard things to do. And yet, it is an emergency. There is an enemy out there who is planning, as we meet here, to attack us.

KWAME HOLMAN: This committee and others will focus on the 9/11 Commission’s main proposal, putting the bulk of the nation’s intelligence apparatus, comprising 15 separate agencies, under a single counterterrorism center whose leader would report directly to the president. Sen. Collins wondered about the wisdom of that arrangement. She questioned vice chairman Lee Hamilton.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Some observers suggest that the overall effect of the intelligence reorganization that the 9/11 Commission has recommended would be to diminish the influence of the CIA, to considerably increase the importance of the Pentagon, and to give the White House more direct control over covert operations. I’d like to give you the opportunity to respond to those specific comments which, as you know, are shared by some others within the intelligence community.

LEE HAMILTON: It is inconceivable to me that a president of the United States would want his highest national security priority handled somewhere else in the government that is not under his direct control. Now keep in mind that counterterrorism policy involves so many different things. I mean, it’s diplomacy, it’s military action, it’s covert action, it’s law enforcement, it’s public diplomacy, it’s tracing money flows in the treasury department, and we have to organize ourselves in such a way that we can integrate and balance all of these tools of American foreign policy to deal with the threat of counterterrorism. That kind of thing can only be coordinated and done in the White House under the president’s direct control. Where else would you put it? Do you want to put all of this authority in the CIA? Do you want to put it all in the Defense Department when you’re dealing with all of these other aspects of counter-terrorism policy? I don’t think so.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Michigan Democrat Carl Levin again asked if an intelligence chief directly under the president might be subject to undue political influence.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: How does putting the director even closer to the policymaker do anything other than to make this problem even more difficult?

LEE HAMILTON: Well, I think it’s a tremendous problem. I think all of us recognize that the separation of intelligence and policy is very, very important. Those of us who have dealt with it know that it’s also impossible to achieve completely. You’re always going to have interaction here. And you want to build, I guess, some barriers or some walls so you don’t have excessive politicization. But I think it’s unrealistic to think that you can build any kind of a structure where you have none at all.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Well, but that’s not the issue, isn’t it? You’re tearing Down a wall. You’re not… it sounds like you’re building a wall. Aren’t you putting that person closer to the policymakers?

LEE HAMILTON: Under the present structure you cannot say you get good competitive analysis. That’s what you just issued your report on, group think, and that means you don’t get competitive analysis. So from this, the way we’re doing it now isn’t working if you want competitive analysis.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Governmental Affairs Committee hears more about the Commission’s recommendations next week, when committees of the House take up the issue as well.