WASHINGTON (AP) – A growing number of senators are questioning whether the Senate should abandon pledges to make far-reaching changes to the nation’s intelligence bureaucracy before Election Day, doubts that could dampen the bill’s momentum.

Pushing the legislation through with battles going on between President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry – as well as House and Senate control up for grabs – could lead to changes that do more harm than good to the nation’s 15 intelligence agencies, they say.

“We must not lose sight of how integral intelligence is to our national security and we must be careful not to rush to failure,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Some went even further.

“I’m willing to break with the president and say, Let’s not do this before the election,”‘ Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, said Wednesday. “I know he wants a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden before the election and if he doesn’t get it, Sen. Kerry will attack him, but there are times where you have to do the right thing and it seems to me to do the right thing is to go slower on this.”

But Senate Governmental Affairs chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she vehemently disagrees with those who want to wait.

“If we wait till next year, I would bet you that nothing will happen,” Collins said. “Many of these reforms have been recommended time and time again. They go back decades. If we don’t act now, when will we have the willpower to act?”

She and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on her committee, pushed their intelligence reorganization bill out of committee Wednesday by a unanimous 17-0 vote. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is expected to call it up for floor action next week.

Separately, the Senate acted quickly Wednesday to approve Rep. Porter Goss as the new CIA director by a vote of 77-17. The former CIA and Army intelligence officer most recently chaired the House Intelligence Committee. Some Democrats protested that the Florida Republican has too many partisan for a job that requires independence.

The Collins-Lieberman bill, meanwhile, is likely to have a tougher time on the Senate floor, since a number of senators share Bennett’s sentiments. For example, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, noted that many intelligence experts, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, have warned Congress to slow down.

“It would be ludicrous to push something through in the last two weeks of the session in a presidential year unless we have a firm understanding how we can make it better,” she said Tuesday.

The legislation was prompted by the Sept. 11 commission, which contended the nation’s 15 military and civilian intelligence agencies’ failure to cooperate precluded an effective defense that could have prevented the 2001 attacks. The panel recommended creation of a national intelligence director to control and coordinate all the agencies.

The bill would give the intelligence director full hiring, firing and spending control over the CIA, the National Security Agency, the FBI’s Office of Intelligence, the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence directorate and other intelligence agencies that don’t directly feed the Pentagon.

“We want a director to tell the administration what it does not want to hear,” said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

The House is expected to introduce its version on Thursday. It will closely follow a White House plan and let the intelligence chief coordinate nonmilitary spy agencies, but would limit the director’s hiring and budgetary control.


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