9/11 panel leaders urge swift action
The leaders of the Sept. 11 commission reiterated their call Friday that Congress and the president must quickly overhaul the nation's intelligence agencies, prompting a Senate and House pledge for an unusual round of hearings in August. The White House said it would study the proposals, but gave no timetable for action.
Unless the panel's recommendations are implemented, "we're more vulnerable to another terrorist attack," he said.
Senate leaders said they would urge a key committee to introduce legislation by Oct. 1 to centralize the intelligence agencies. The committee said it would hold hearings on the commission's recommendations in early August.
Congress began its recess Friday and was to be out of session until after Labor Day.
"The American people expect us to act," said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee (news - web sites). "We don't have the luxury of waiting for months."
Collins and the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (news, bio, voting record), D-Conn., said they would invite the commission's leaders, Kean and the vice chairman, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., to testify. The legislation would address two of the commission's key recommendations: creating a national counterterrorism center and a new Cabinet-level intelligence director.
"This is a crisis. People died, and more people will unless we get it together," Lieberman said.
Late Friday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who has expressed doubt that lawmakers would have time to consider a sweeping intelligence overhaul this year, said he and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, would also direct House committees to hold hearings in August and make recommendations for legislation in September.
Earlier in the day, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California urged Hastert in a letter to reconvene the House in August, and Hastert responded that he would seek hearings "over the next several months." He later announced the August hearings.
"The House plans to immediately assess everything we have done ... since 9/11 and everything more we need to do," Hastert said.
The idea of a new national intelligence director with budget authority and power to oversee the 15-agency intelligence community has been met with skepticism in Congress, where some key lawmakers are concerned that the position would create more bureaucracy and politicize the business of gathering and analyzing intelligence.
In its blistering report Thursday, the panel of five Republicans and five Democrats cited multiple intelligence failures that contributed to the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history.
President Bush on Friday directed his chief of staff, Andrew Card, to study the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.
Card will undertake a Cabinet-level review of the proposals, which will be examined at all levels of government, Buchan said. She would offer no timetable for when Card would report back to Bush on the study.
Bush arrived at his Crawford, Texas, ranch Friday for a weeklong vacation and will discuss the commission's recommendations with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice when she arrives later this weekend.
The commission's unanimous report, the culmination of a 20-month investigation, portrayed the Sept. 11 terrorists as creative and determined while the nation they were preparing to strike was unprepared and uncomprehending of the imminent danger. Nearly 3,000 people were killed when 19 hijackers flew airliners into New York's Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside.
The report could spell trouble for Bush, who has made his handling of terrorism the centerpiece of his campaign. Some commissioners have said their reforms should become an election-year issue.
Rice said Friday in television interviews that change was needed, but she stopped far short of endorsing the creation of a national intelligence directorship.
"Any specific recommendation has to be looked at for both its up sides and its down sides," Rice said on NBC's "Today" show.
Lieberman said Senate leaders would appoint a group of senators to address another commission recommendation — to reorganize the way Congress oversees the intelligence agencies. He and Collins agreed that could be the tougher task.
"If business is conducted as usual, there will be turf battles" over congressional oversight, Lieberman said.