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Archive for Sunday, July 18, 2004

9-11 commission to urge centralized agency

Cabinet-level post would oversee intelligence offices

July 18, 2004

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— The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks will recommend a new Cabinet-level post to oversee the nation's 15 intelligence agencies and control their budgets, say two people familiar with the panel's final report.

The report to be released Thursday makes the case for a director of national intelligence by detailing intelligence failures by the CIA and the FBI that enabled the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to occur, they say. The two would only speak on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public.

Putting in place a Cabinet official for intelligence would be the most drastic step in structuring the intelligence agencies since the CIA was created after World War II.

The CIA director now has loose authority over those agencies. But the commission in a preliminary report found the director did not hold enough power, because the Pentagon controls more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget. As a result, CIA requests to other agencies are often ignored.

Advocates say the plan for a Cabinet official for intelligence is gaining momentum as the Bush administration faces criticism for going to war with Iraq based on flawed intelligence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The idea of a new intelligence chief is fiercely opposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has advocated the creation of a director to oversee all facets of the nation's intelligence. He also wants to double spending for clandestine operations and accelerate FBI changes to improve its handling of domestic intelligence.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report released July 9 concluded that the CIA provided false assessments of the Iraqi threat. GOP leaders and President Bush say the CIA is to blame and they have urged an intelligence overhaul. Some Democrats also believe the administration might have unduly pressured analysts.

The idea of a single intelligence director is not new. It was recommended by a joint congressional committee that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks and by a presidential commission headed by Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser.

The Senate committee plans hearings in the coming weeks on changes among the intelligence agencies. The chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, has said Congress should not act hastily. "We have got to get it right," said Roberts, R-Kan.

The White House would be willing to consider the idea. "The president has made it clear that he is open to further reforms," White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Saturday.

The New York Times first reported on the recommendation.

Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin said in a recent speech that a Cabinet official for intelligence would mean "additional layers of command or bureaucracy."

Creating such a post "is not the best answer to the real challenges American intelligence faces in the 21st century," McLaughlin said. Instead, said McLaughlin, the government can make progress on intelligence by "modernizing the structures we already have."

The commission was established by Congress in 2002 to investigate government intelligence lapses before the attacks and recommend ways to better protect the country against terrorists. The commission has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses, including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and reviewed more than 2 million documents.

The report will be posted on the Internet and sold in bookstores and through the government printing office.

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