Democratic senators and the staff of the commission that probed the September 11 terrorist attacks on Tuesday warned against “cosmetic change” in the organisation of US intelligence-gathering, after President George W. Bush's announced plans to create a national intelligence director outside the White House and without clear budgetary authority.
In hearings investigating the commission's recommendations, members of the Senate governmental affairs committee urged the White House to give the new director authority to overcome bureaucratic obstacles in the intelligence community.
On Monday Mr Bush accepted the commission's proposal to create a national intelligence director responsible for information gathering. But he rejected the proposal to make the job a White House post, left vague the new director's budget role and insisted the director would not stand between the president and the Pentagon.
Testifying to the committee, Philip Zelikow, commission executive director, said the national intelligence director should be in the executive office. Otherwise, he said, the alternative of a new agency “would require authorities at least as strong as those we have proposed, or else it would create a bureaucratic ‘fifth wheel' that would make the present situation even worse”.
Democrat senator Joseph Lieberman told the Senate hearing the administration's proposals for an intelligence chief appeared “to lack the powers the committee wants it to have”. He warned the position could become “a façade with no real authority behind it.” Mr Lieberman emphasised the need for the director to hold budgetary authority over the 15 agencies in the US intelligence community.
Susan Collins, Republican chair of the governmental affairs committee, said the proposed national counter-terrorism centre should get the resources and status it needed.
The commission's two central recommendations were the creation of a national director of intelligence post and the integration of all terrorist intelligence analysis; and for intelligence operations to be planned by a counter-terrorism centre.
Leading counter-terrorism officials guardedly commended the proposals but worried that rapid institutional change could hamper ongoing counter-terrorism efforts. Citing fears about a lack of separation and independence, the officials backed Mr Bush's decision not to place the national intelligence director in the White House.
“Are the recommendations of 9/11 workable, are they doable in totality? I don't think they are,” said John Brennan, director of the Terrorism Threat Integration Center, jointly operated by the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation. “I don't think we would do a service to this nation if we took these as they're stated and ran with them with haste. I just don't think there is sufficient engineering, design, consideration of all the complexities here.”
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