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04 August 2004

Congress Considers Panel's Intelligence Community Proposals

Legislation to implement changes not seen as likely this year

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- U.S. congressional committees are contemplating the most significant transformation of the national intelligence community since its creation in 1947, but actual legislation to implement changes might not happen this year, according to members of Congress.

The bipartisan, 10-member 9/11 Commission, which over the past two years conducted a series of hearings on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, issued a 570-page report July 22 calling for a series of changes to be made by the president and Congress to bring about reforms to enhance the intelligence community's effectiveness and coordinate its oversight, management and funding.

The two most sweeping proposals from the 41 recommendations contained in the panel's report call for creation of a national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center. The director would oversee intelligence agencies across the federal government, propose and coordinate a unified intelligence budget, and serve as principal intelligence adviser to the president. The center would be the central office for intelligence gathering, analysis and counterterrorism operations.

President Bush endorsed both major recommendations and many of the others in August 2 remarks, adding that some of his own initiatives would go further than those proposed by the commission. "Our goal is an integrated, unified, national intelligence effort," the president said. However, he stopped short of endorsing the panel's full list of recommendations.

The president said he will ask Congress, when it returns from its annual August recess, to create the position of a national intelligence director.

"The national intelligence director will assume the broader responsibility of leading the intelligence community across our government," Bush said, noting that the Senate would have to confirm the president's choice for the post. And, under the administration's proposal, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would continue to be managed by a separate director.

Creation of the new position would require a substantial revision of the 1947 National Security Act that originally created the current intelligence and national security structure.

Currently, the director of central intelligence coordinates the work of the 15-member intelligence community, although each agency or bureau actually operates separately from the others. The intelligence community includes the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State. Department of the Treasury, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency, and intelligence agencies in the Coast Guard, Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Bush also announced his intention to establish a national counterterrorism center, which would build on the current Terrorist Threat Integration Center and become the U.S. government's central databank for information on terrorism.

"The new center will coordinate and monitor counterterrorism plans and activities of all government agencies and departments to ensure effective joint action and that our efforts are unified in priority and purpose," he said. "The center will also be responsible for preparing the daily terrorism threat report for the president and senior officials."

Because of continued global weapons proliferation, Bush said it might be necessary to create a similar center to bring together intelligence analysis, planning and operations to track and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

During the next three weeks at least nine separate congressional committees are planning hearings on the 9/11 panel's recommendations, even though the entire Congress is in recess until September 7. The Congress is routinely off during the month of August and returns to work the day after the national Labor Day holiday.

Also influencing action by Congress is the fact that the entire House of Representatives and some members of the Senate are up for re-election, as is the president, November 2.

Although some have suggested Congress be brought back into session during August to conduct hearings and prepare legislation to act on the panel's recommendations, the leadership in both chambers has rejected those calls.

Leaders in the Senate set an October 1 deadline for its Governmental Affairs Committee to draft legislation, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican of Tennessee, designated Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins to take the lead on intelligence reform.

"It is our hope that the Governmental Affairs Committee, working closely with the other interested committees, will carefully evaluate each of the commission's proposals and factor in their views before coming forward with a legislative package," Frist said. "The threat of terrorism will be with us for a long time. We need to fix the problems and correct the shortcomings cited by the commission so that we can make America safer."

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, said, "Senator Frist and I intend to work together with our colleagues in a bipartisan manner to examine all of the commission's proposals. We both agree that change is long overdue and we cannot afford to let another opportunity to make these changes slip by."

On the other hand, efforts last week by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, to reconvene the full House were rejected by the Republican leadership who has not, as yet, set a legislative deadline or determined which committees will produce its reform package.

"We're not going to rush through anything," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Republican-Illinois, said following the release of the commission's book-length report.

U.S. Representative John McHugh, Republican-New York, a member of both the House Government Reform and Armed Services committees, said substantial intelligence reorganization would be difficult to accomplish in the current environment.

"We're contemplating doing some very fundamental and broad-based changes that, from a congressional perspective, will overlap a great many committees' jurisdiction and we're going to have to work through that as we go along," McHugh said.

House Governmental Reform Chairman Thomas Davis, a Republican of Virginia, agreed, saying it might be more effective if Congress gave the president authority to develop an intelligence reorganization plan that could be submitted to Congress for a straight vote.

Meanwhile, members of the 9/11 Commission, which is formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, have pledged to actively campaign within Congress for acceptance of all its 41 recommendations.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president had met with his advisers to determine which of the 9/11 report's recommendations could be implemented by executive order, and those changes would be forthcoming.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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