Senate panel weighs urgency of intelligence reforms

The Senate Select Intelligence Committee peppered 9/11 commission members Tuesday with questions about on the merits of their recommendations and the urgency of the proposals' implementation. With 19 days remaining in the congressional session, many senators on the committee questioned whether the commission's recommendations, along with the regular work of Congress, could be completed before lawmakers return home for the fall election campaigns.

Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said the sooner the recommendations were implemented, the safer the American people would be from terrorist attacks.

"If these recommendations haven't been acted upon, God forbid something happens," Kean asserted.

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the national attention the 9/11 commission's recommendations generated have created a window of opportunity for lasting and meaningful reform. According to Roberts, an Oct. 1 deadline -- the date Congress is scheduled to adjourn -- might not leave enough time to complete floor action on intelligence reform and conference with the House.

"We can no longer wait to implement reforms in the national intelligence community," Roberts said. "September has to be devoted to intelligence reform."

Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., ranking member of the committee, said he fears that the heated political season will bring "a series of votes on constitutional amendments," rather than the real business of Congress. "We're asking to move the debate over to real reform," Rockefeller said.

Despite Tuesday's announcement of sweeping legislation that would enact the 9/11 commission's recommendations, Roberts admitted that the commission's proposal for a national director of 15 intelligence agencies is flawed.

"I'm concerned, because without real operational control, his only control is budget control once a year," Roberts said. "There is no authority to direct day-to-day operations of the CIA and the other agencies."

Roberts has proposed legislation that would transfer sections of the CIA and intelligence agencies managed by the Defense Department to the new national intelligence director's direct control.

Other senators questioned the committee members on the authority a national intelligence director would need to perform the job effectively, or whether the position would simply add another layer in the bureaucracy. They also wanted to know if the commission's recommendation would allow for competitive analysis of intelligence.

"Does the president get other views with this model?" asked Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., questioned whether creating a national intelligence director post would allow for accountability in the intelligence community. He then encouraged an overhaul in the way government documents are classified and called for declassifying the intelligence community's budgets.

Commissioner John Lehman supported Wyden's budget proposal, saying the greatest damage would be that the United States' enemies would be able to see how irrationally intelligence money is spent.

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