Kerry calls for Sept. 11 commission to continue work

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is set to accept the Democratic nomination for the 2004 presidential election this week, said Tuesday that the Sept. 11 commission should "stay on the job" past the end of August to ensure that its recommendations are implemented.

The commission is set to disband Aug. 28. During a campaign stop in Norfolk, Va., Kerry called for the body to instead continue to work for an additional 18 months. The commission should also issue status reports every six months, beginning in December, on the progress made in implementing the recommendations included in its final report released last week, Kerry said.

The commission proposed a number of measures to help improve U.S. intelligence, counterterrorism and homeland security efforts. Among the recommendations were proposals to change the structure of the U.S. intelligence community through the creation of a national director of intelligence and National Counterterrorism Center, as well as proposals to help improve congressional oversight of intelligence and homeland security.

"The stakes are too high to treat this commission's report as something to just go away. The threat will not just go away. The commission's recommendation should not just go away," Kerry said.

The White House said yesterday that a Cabinet-level task force is examining the commission's recommendations and that President Bush may act soon to implement some proposals through executive order. In addition, a number of committees in both houses of Congress are set to hold hearings on the issue over the summer recess with the aim of producing legislation proposals by the end of the year.

Kerry yesterday called on both Bush and Congress to act quickly on the commission's recommendations.

"We simply must act, not as partisans, but as patriots, not to win an argument about what was done or not done in the past, but to win a war upon which our future depends," he said.

According to reports, members of the commission plan to make a number of public appearances in support of their findings. The commission did not return calls for comment today on Kerry's proposal.

Intelligence experts told Global Security Newswire this week that the devastating impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the work of the Sept. 11 commission have resulted in growing momentum for implementing intelligence reform.

"Politics dictate you have to do something," said Charles Pena, director of defense policy studies at the CATO Institute. "You can't flat out ignore it," he said.

Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday he expects "a great debate" on the report. "I don't agree with absolutely everything that's in it," he said, according to Reuters.

The commission's report has "reinvigorated" prospects for reform, said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy.

"A lot of things seem possible that were out of reach before," Aftergood said, adding that if reform is not possible now, "then it will never be."

One important test, according to Aftergood, is if action is taken on the commission's recommendation to declassify the overall funding provided to the various intelligence agencies. While the CIA has "stubbornly resisted" such a move, it would help to improve oversight of the intelligence community, he said.

"Nobody should have any illusions," Pena said. "This isn't going to happen overnight," he said of reform.

Some experts have warned that the CIA could resist reform efforts, noting recent speeches by former CIA Director George Tenet and acting agency chief John McLaughlin. In his farewell address to CIA employees earlier this month, Tenet noted the progress made in improving intelligence during his tenure as director, adding, "If people or leaders want to take you back in a different direction -- then it is your voices that must be heard to say -- we know better and we're not going to put up with it."

In addition, McLaughlin has publicly stated several times his opposition to the creation of a national director of intelligence, which the commission has recommended would be separate from CIA director. Congressional approval would be needed for such a move, but the position would only add needless bureaucracy, McLaughlin argues.

According to experts, though, the CIA may have little say in how the Sept. 11 commission's proposals are implemented.

"It's not really up to the CIA anymore," Aftergood said.

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