July 23, 2004
WASHINGTON - The Sept. 11 commission’s recommendations for averting another terrorist disaster may be hard to achieve in a government where turf is zealously guarded.
‘‘I would call myself hopeful but not optimistic that these changes will be enacted prior to another terrorist attack on the United States,’’ said commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former U.S. senator.
Top administration and congressional officials agreed Thursday that at the very least, change will not come quickly.
‘‘Anything that we’re going to do is going to be
deliberate and not rushed,’’ House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said at a news conference. ‘‘We’re going to make sure it really solves problems.’’
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., co-author of the legislation creating the commission, declared that ‘‘delay was the enemy.’’ McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., urged congressional leaders to call a special session following the November election to begin considering the commission’s recommendations.
Senior White House aides suggested there would be no rush for an election-year decision on which of the commission’s recommendations to pursue.
Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, said there would be reforms, but made clear that Bush is in no hurry to reach a decision on how best to restructure the country’s intelligence community.
‘‘It only makes sense to take a little time and to think this through,’’ she said.
In its final report after a 20-month investigation, the Sept. 11 commission offered more than 60 recommendations.
Perhaps the most sweeping was creating a national intelligence director to head a counterterrorism center that would coordinate the work now carried out by 15 different agencies.
Despite more communication between federal agencies since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, ‘‘the problems of intelligence coordination have multiplied,’’ the report said.
‘‘Need-to-share must replace need-to-know,’’ said commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton.
The center would be able to influence the leadership and the budgets of the counterterrorism operating arms of the CIA, the FBI, and the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States proposed that the director, often referred to as an ‘‘intelligence czar,’’ be located at the White House and have three deputies — for foreign intelligence, defense intelligence and homeland intelligence.
But a proposal to create an intelligence czar with broader budget authority got a mixed reception earlier this week at a Senate hearing. Critics cited fear of a greater bureaucracy and concerns that the post would become too political by being in the president’s cabinet.
The 10-member panel also:
• Called congressional oversight of intelligence and counterterrorism ‘‘dysfunctional.’’ It recommended giving more power to the House and Senate intelligence panels and setting up a committee with primary responsibility over the Department of Homeland Security. Currently, more than 88 committees and subcommittees have jurisdiction over some part of the department, which was created in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, federal officials said.
Hastert took issue with the commission’s proposal of a joint House-Senate oversight committee for intelligence, saying ‘‘we do a lot of work in the House. We have a hard time getting any work out of the Senate.’’
And as Kerrey noted, this ‘‘will require members of Congress, in some cases, to give up committee assignments that they currently have that they love.’’
• Recommended establishing a specialized national security work force at the FBI consisting of agents, linguists and surveillance specialists who are recruited, trained, rewarded and retained to ensure ‘‘an institutional culture imbued with a deep expertise in intelligence and national security.’’
The FBI said in a statement that it agrees with several of the commission’s recommendations ‘‘and is actively working to build a workforce with expertise in intelligence.’’
• Making a broad range of domestic reforms, from focusing on ‘‘neglected’’ parts of the nation’s transportation systems outside of aviation to creating federal standards for personal identification cards to reduce the chance of terrorists posing as U.S. citizens.
• On the international front, the commission proposed recommendations that ranged from developing a relationship with Saudi Arabia that goes ‘‘beyond oil’’ to devoting ‘‘maximum effort’’ to reducing the risk from weapons of mass destruction.
Some of the recommendations in the report were specific and concrete, such as improving literacy and education in Muslim countries. ‘‘Unglamorous help is needed to support the basics, such as textbooks that translate more of the world’s knowledge into local languages and libraries to house such materials. Education about the outside world, or other cultures, is weak,’’ the report noted.
Other proposals were more philosophical: ‘‘We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors.’’
A few of the panel’s recommendations have already been adopted by the government, including the creation a biometric system to identify people coming in and out of the United States. The Department of Homeland Security recently awarded a large contract for such a system.