Congressional Democrats have announced
a plan for reorganizing the country's intelligence system, based on lessons learned
from both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq. The announcement
comes as committees heard more testimony from a U.S. counterterror official about
the war against the al-Qaida organization.
Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Intelligence
Committee, says the Intelligence Transformation Act is aimed at streamlining
the way information is collected, analyzed, and disseminated within the government.
"We are here today to initiate a call to action," she said. "The problems
plaguing American intelligence are too grave and the potential damage to U.S.
national security, force protection in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, too
important to justify delay."
Among other steps, the legislation proposes a new position of director of
national intelligence, to be appointed by the president to serve as his principal
adviser on intelligence.
Mrs. Harman said this would result in the head of the CIA being "more like
his counterpart in the FBI," adding that the person occupying the new position
should probably have cabinet rank.
Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings says the only way to effectively fight the
war on terror is to cut down on bureaucracy and duplication that has prevented
some 15 government agencies from working together.
"Too much duplication, too much competition, not enough coordination, not
enough collaboration," he said.
Mrs. Harman says many aspects of the plan stem from the joint House-Senate
Intelligence Committee investigation into the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The legislation comes as the bi-partisan September 11 Commission continues
its work, and prepares for long-sought public testimony from National Security
Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and private testimony from President Bush and Vice
Democrats say they presented their proposals to Republicans who control the
House, but decided waiting for a Republican response or indications of support
was not an option because of the importance of the matter for the country.
Democrats also outlined their proposals in a letter to President Bush. They
want the president to remove the White House from all decisions involving declassification
of information related to the September 11 attacks, or inquiries into the issue
of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Also Thursday, lawmakers heard more
testimony Thursday from officials involved in the war on terror about continuing
threats from the al-Qaida terrorist organization.
Cofer Black, the State Department's counter-terror chief, said the bombings
in Madrid demonstrated al-Qaida's determination to murder Americans and anyone
else in the anti-terror war.
"Al-Qaida is determined to strike the United States, our allies and interest
wherever it can, using the most destructive means at its disposal," he said. "I
have no doubt whatsoever that al-Qaida would use unconventional weapons if
it possessed the capability to do so."
Mr. Black went on to say the lessons of Madrid, as well as attacks in other
countries, is that "no country is safe from the scourge of terrorism."
Describing Iraq as the current focal point of what he called "foreign jihadist
fighters" Mr. Black said U.S. and allied forces are acting aggressively to
make sure al-Qaida and other terrorist groups cannot establish Iraq as a new
training ground or sanctuary.