WASHINGTON (AP) – Senators promised swift consideration of proposals to revamp the nation’s intelligence structure after leaders of the Sept. 11 commission warned that bureaucratic wrangling leaves America dangerously vulnerable to another terrorist attack.

At a rare hearing Friday during the Senate’s typically quiet August recess, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, urged fellow lawmakers to “be bold but not reckless” in considering a reorganization that would amount to a “fundamental overhaul of our intelligence structure and a sea change in our thinking.”

Added the committee’s top Democrat, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut: “We’re going to get this job done and get it done with unprecedented thoughtfulness and speed.”

As Congress continued its debate, a working group appointed by President Bush was meeting Friday about a possible administration package of changes. A senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the panel was close to presenting its recommendations to Bush.

Among ideas prompting discussion is the establishment of a new national intelligence director, a major proposal from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The official said the administration’s internal debate has centered on the scope of that person’s authority and the individual’s working relationship with the CIA.

Without providing specifics, the official said the working group is looking at options that could go beyond the commission’s recommendations and indicated that one focus might be in the area of protecting privacy rights and civil liberties.

“Reform is not easy,” Bush said at a campaign stop in Springfield, Mo. “Achieving reform requires taking on the special interests, requires challenging the status quo.”

During the Senate hearing, the 9/11 commission’s chairman, Thomas Kean, and vice chairman Lee Hamilton acknowledged institutional resistance to change will make reforms difficult but said the status quo is not an option.

The panel has recommended more than 40 changes, but Friday’s hearing focused on creating a new national counterterrorism center and the job of intelligence director, who would oversee the 15-agency intelligence community.

“We have concluded the intelligence community is not going to get its job done unless somebody really is in charge,” Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, told the committee. “That is just not the case now, and we have paid the price.”

Intelligence reform has become a key issue in the fall election, with Kean, Hamilton and other commissioners vowing to keep the pressure on Congress and the Bush administration to make changes.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has endorsed the commission findings. Bush created the working group, which he instructed to draft executive orders that could immediately implement some of the proposals.

The commission’s report recounted numerous intelligence missteps in the months preceding the 2001 terror hijackings that killed almost 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington and a Pennsylvania field.

The 10 commissioners, traveling in pairs, are embarking on a nationwide tour next week to share their report with the public and to draw attention to the need to overhaul U.S. intelligence gathering and use. Kean said the commission is seeking private donations to continue its work past Aug. 26, when it is scheduled to dissolve under the law that created it.

Collins and Lieberman support the proposed national intelligence director and national counterterror center. But both are examining details about how to make the two ideas work.

Congressional critics are surfacing as well. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., questioned whether the new national intelligence director would be too close to the White House to provide independent analysis. He said he has reservations about what the counterterrorism center would mean for the command structure at the Defense Department.

The hearing was the first of at least 15 that will be held in coming weeks by more than a half-dozen House and Senate committees.



On the Net:

Sept. 11 panel: http://www.9-11commission.gov

AP-ES-07-31-04 0208EDT



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