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CIA chief: New intelligence czar unnecessary
Updated: 2004-07-19 10:40

Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin said Sunday that a new Cabinet-level chief to oversee all U.S. intelligence agencies is unnecessary.

The new Cabinet post is recommended in an upcoming report from the 9/11 commission, according to a source familiar with the report, and the idea is backed by a number of legislators.

Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin said "a good argument can be made" for a Cabinet-level position, though it is not needed. [AP]
McLaughlin said the report warrants "a close look" and the recommendation "deserves to be debated."

He said he agreed with Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that "we need to go carefully in changing the intelligence community."

"This won't be an academic exercise," he said.

But McLaughlin said he would "lean against" appointing a new national director of intelligence to oversee the country's 15 intelligence agencies, because he said that with minor adjustments the CIA director could easily fulfill the needs the report describes.

The 10-member bipartisan panel -- formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- was established by Congress to investigate the events before, during and immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The chairman of the 9/11 commission, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, set an internal deadline of Thursday, the last day Congress is in session before its summer recess, for releasing the report.

The original release date was July 26, which is also the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

A source who has read what he called the "final draft of the final report" said it concludes in "sharp language" that a main reason the country was ill prepared for the attacks of September 11, and perhaps did not do more to prevent them, is that intelligence responsibilities are spread too widely across the government.

The report notes there have been too many turf battles and other budget and jurisdictional fights, the source said.

But, McLaughlin said, "the intelligence community the commission analyzed is not the intelligence community of today."

"Much has changed. If you go to that time, we had 300 people spread-eagled across a dike, if you will," he said.

Still, McLaughlin said, "everyone needs to look at" the report "very closely."

The 9/11 commission report as expected also calls for major changes in "both the structure and the culture" of the FBI, and chides Congress for not doing more over the years to exert oversight authority and correct obvious problems, the source said.

The report calls on Congress to streamline how it deals with intelligence as well, he said.

Two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee agreed on CNN's "Late Edition" Sunday that change is needed in the intelligence community.

The committee was highly critical of the CIA in a report issued July 9 on the agency's prewar estimates of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, saying their conclusions were overstated and unsupported by intelligence.

But Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said that though he was "very open" to real change, he did not favor creating a national intelligence director if it did nothing more than add another layer of bureaucracy.

"What we need to do is step back and take a look at the whole intelligence operation," he said. "We have no information sharing, vertically or horizontally."

Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois said the intelligence "situation" was "untenable."

"We need new leadership, new vision and reform immediately," he said.

Durbin said, however, that he was "torn" about whether President Bush should appoint a new CIA director sooner rather than later -- and put the confirmation process firmly into the middle of a political campaign.

The post came open after longtime Director George Tenet left July 11.

Chambliss said he was not concerned about holding confirmation hearings during the campaign.

"I think we need to go ahead and have a new CIA director," he said. "If we don't, it will be a huge mistake. We just need to get it done. We can have hearings in a bipartisan way."

Chambliss said that "whoever is the next director is going to have to be open to serious reform."

Two other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Trent Lott of Mississippi, have proposed establishing a national director of intelligence.

Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, issued a statement Saturday saying she would welcome the creation of a such a position.

A White House official said Saturday that Bush has been "open to the idea of intelligence reform" and looked forward to the commission's report.

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