KWAME HOLMAN: Members of the House Armed Services Committee today made no mention at all of the fact that the president had nominated one of their colleagues, Porter Goss, to be CIA Director, nor did 9/11 Chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton volunteer a comment.
They were there to stress the importance of creating a new director of national intelligence, who would control all 15 U.S. Intelligence agencies, including the CIA, and those in the Pentagon, which this committee currently oversees.
THOMAS KEAN: He would not be like other czars who get the title, and yet are given no meaningful authority. The national intelligence director would have real authority. He would control national intelligence program purse strings.
He will have hire and fire authority over agency heads in the national intelligence community. He will control the IT. He will have real troops at the national counterterrorism center, and all the national intelligence centers would report to him.
KWAME HOLMAN: Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton acknowledged the criticisms the national intelligence director idea has generated.
LEE HAMILTON: One theme that has been that an overall chief will stifle healthy dissent and competitive analysis. We believe our proposal will both strengthen analysis and enhance competitive analysis.
Our proposal creates genuine national centers under the national intelligence director, not under the head of the CIA. Their views would have to be reckoned into the core of intelligence products. Their views would not be shunted to the periphery.
KWAME HOLMAN: Hamilton also responded to critics, some on this committee, who argue having an all-powerful national intelligence director could jeopardize military operations.
LEE HAMILTON: Another worry voiced about this reform is that it would remove from the secretary of defense direct and immediate control over national intelligence assets that are critical to war fighters.
It is unimaginable to us that the national intelligence director would not give protection of our forces deployed in the field a very high, if not highest, priority.
KWAME HOLMAN: California Republican Duncan Hunter chairs the Armed Services Committee. He said transferring control of the Pentagon's intelligence- gathering authority to a national director may not be necessary.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: I don't see any specific mention, or instance of a failure, or a negligence on the part of a DOD agency, with respect to those failures.
Were there any failures with respect to those agencies in 9/11, because part of your recommendation for reform does involve transferring control of those agencies from DOD to the national intelligence director?
LEE HAMILTON: I do not recall us finding a failure of a DOD agency, so far as we know. But we certainly think that part of the problem has been an unwillingness to share the information that a number of different agencies had.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Chairman Kean pointed to former CIA Director George Tenet's declaration of war against al-Qaida in 1998.
Kean said that would have been a genuine call-to-arms had a single intelligence director been in place.
THOMAS KEAN: Now, that's a very important thing when the head of an intelligence agency declares war. Nobody got it.
Nobody got it in other agencies. Nobody got it even in some cases within the CIA; we can find no effect, basically, for that declaration of war.
What we are suggesting, I guess, is that if you have that coordinated and that declaration of war had been made under the system we recommend, the military, the diplomatic side, the intelligence side, they all would have gotten it.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Pennsylvania's Curt Weldon argued that some policymakers were in fact thinking about those issues during the late 1990s, including members of this committee.
REP. CURT WELDON: It was this committee in 1999 who prepared a nine-page briefing to create what was then called the national operations and analysis hub to emerge to assess emerging transnational threats for the policymaker.
If you read the summary of the recommendations, it's almost identical to what the 9/11 Commission has just now said, but this was done in 1999. And the CIA repeatedly said, "we don't need it."
And so I think in taking the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission we better understand that the problem is going to be far more difficult than just knowing what needs to be done.
It's going to be dealing with an agency system of entrenched bureaucrats who think they have all the answers and all the solutions, and they don't want to hear from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
LEE HAMILTON: I'd just observe that we do not claim originality on our recommendations. We've built on the shoulders of a lot of people, many of whom are sitting before me, and we've built on the shoulders of a lot of commissions that have preceded us.
KWAME HOLMAN: The 9/11 Commission leaders continue to push their recommendations tomorrow before the House Intelligence Committee.