Lawmakers wary of new terrorist threat center

Several key lawmakers have warned an independent commission assembled to study the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that the CIA should not oversee a new anti-terrorism center designed to integrate domestic and foreign intelligence data.

Congress required the Homeland Security Department to implement a system for analyzing information on terrorist threats, but a separate entity known as the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) is housed within the CIA and will serve as a central repository for all government intelligence information. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said the Bush administration unwisely placed that center there.

"The administration has ... created a weak intelligence-analysis unit inside the department and a brand new threat-integration center under the command of the director of central intelligence," Lieberman told the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, also known as the 9-11 Commission. "I fear it will not do what is necessary to prevent further terrorism from occurring."

Congress passed legislation last fall creating the 9-11 Commission and charged it with providing a full accounting of the Sept. 11 attacks by next year and with recommending ways to avoid similar tragedies. The commission hosted a two-day meeting on Thursday and Friday to consider Congress' oversight role and the response of federal agencies to the attacks.

Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that a forthcoming report from a joint congressional inquiry into Sept. 11 examines how a lack of resources in the intelligence community contributed to their failure to identify or distribute information that might have helped prevent the attacks. The lawmakers at the hearing pressed the 9-11 Commission to exhaustively explore the issues raised in that report.

Commission member and former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington asked the lawmakers whether the CIA, FBI and other intelligence units are quickly implementing post-Sept. 11 changes that Congress and other groups have recommended.

Shelby said there has not been enough "wholesale change." Even today, Lieberman added, "our intelligence community remains divided and trapped behind many of the same bureaucratic barriers that spelled disaster in the months leading up to" Sept. 11.

But Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., suggested that intelligence officials have taken steps to reform and plug intelligence gaps. The National Security Agency, for example, has obtained better technology systems, she said. "The FBI ... has good, possibly excellent, technology systems that can do data mining and state-of-the-art intelligence gathering," she added.

Lawmakers urged the commission to be unrelenting in its quest for access to executive-branch records. They also called for quicker de-classification of essential reports, including the findings the joint congressional inquiry, which concluded late last year. Harman said that report should be available to the commission by June.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other lawmakers expressed frustration that the commission until now has been denied access to the report. McCain also called on the Bush administration to be more cooperative in providing security information that will help the commission fulfill its duty.