Thursday, July 22, 2004

The commission investigating the September 11 terrorist attacks is recommending the creation of a sub-Cabinet chief of national intelligence, a joint counterterrorism center and strengthened congressional oversight of spy agencies, say U.S. officials familiar with the report.

The three recommendations are contained in the 500-page report, to be released today. The report is the result of months of study by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, formed to investigate intelligence and security failures preceding the September 11 attacks.

The report will identify 10 instances in which the 19 al Qaeda hijackers might have been identified and stopped before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The suicide airline attacks, including a jet that crashed in Pennsylvania, killed nearly 3,000 people.

The commission report calls for setting up the post of director of national intelligence, who will not have Cabinet rank but who will serve as the principal adviser to the president on intelligence matters. The post likely would be located within the National Security Council.

The new intelligence chief also would oversee budgets and activities of the 15 U.S. agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.

Regarding the joint center, the panel is recommending the creation of national counterterrorism center that would seek to create more interaction among intelligence agencies.

Officials said the model for the center would be the military leadership changes that grew out of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, credited with improving military cooperation among the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.

The last major recommendation of the commission is to improve congressional oversight of intelligence by setting up a single joint committee for both the House and Senate, or to strengthen the authority of the two existing House and Senate select committees by making them permanent.

The report concludes that “we’ve got to get the structure [of Congress] right so that we can begin to deal expeditiously with closing the security gaps that we have,” Rep. Jim Turner of Texas said yesterday.

Mr. Turner, the ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, was briefed by commission members.

Critics say congressional oversight panels have grown too friendly toward the intelligence bureaucracy and are reluctant to press for needed reforms.

The report will not call for the creation of a domestic intelligence agency separate from the FBI that would be modeled after Britain’s MI5 security service.

The FBI, which is charged with intelligence gathering in the United States, has opposed the idea of a domestic spy agency.

Officials said the proposed creation of a national counterterrorism center is aimed at fixing problems related to domestic spying that were uncovered after the September 11 attacks.

Commission member Tim Roemer said a centralized intelligence chief with hiring and firing power over all intelligence agencies is needed.

“The bottom line is, there are only two phrases that really give you control in this town,” Mr. Roemer said, “‘You’re fired,’ and ‘Here’s the money.’”

Congressional reform also is needed to fix the problems that were exploited by the September 11 terrorists, Mr. Roemer said.

“Simply moving boxes around [on the organization chart] or creating new positions won’t work without the other elements. You need the changes to the nuts and bolts and the tradecraft [of the intelligence community]; you need the oversight piece,” he said.

Other officials said that adding a layer of bureaucracy to the intelligence system is not the solution.

“We need a new clandestine service that can steal secrets,” said one U.S. official.

Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton briefed White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. on the report yesterday.

Mr. Bush said he looked forward to getting the report.

“I will continue to work with the Congress and state and local governments to build on the homeland security improvements we have already made,” Mr. Bush said during a Rose Garden ceremony yesterday.

• Shaun Waterman of United Press International contributed to this report.

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