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Democratic senators call for intelligence reform

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 1, 2003

WASHINGTON - A trio of Democratic senators, led by Bob Graham of Florida, asked Congress Thursday to reform intelligence gathering in the United States, chiefly by creating a cabinet-level director who would coordinate the collection and use of information about future terrorist threats.

A director of national intelligence would oversee and supervise the work of the CIA, FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the dozen other federal agencies that collect information on threats to the United States, Graham said.

"The intelligence community needs a leader with the clout to set the common goals, establish priorities, knock heads and, when necessary, assure the American people that they are protected," said Graham. "To date there is no person in the intelligence family who is able to set overall goals."

Graham is a contender for the presidency who is running on a platform calling for increased national security.

A spokesman for a House intelligence committee, as well as one with the Department of Homeland Security, rejected Graham's idea and claims. The government, they said, already has created the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which coordinates the work of the government's leading intelligence agencies.

"The Homeland Security Act was created specifically so there wouldn't be the type of power vested in one individual," said Liz Tobias, spokeswoman for the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Creating a cabinet-level director of national intelligence was one suggestion that emerged last week from a joint panel of the House and Senate intelligence committees investigating the events leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Legislators found that the CIA and FBI ignored repeated warnings of an al Qaida attack. The tragedy might have been prevented, their investigation concluded, had U.S. agencies understood the significance of the data they had gathered and had shared it with each other.

Sen. Diane Feinstein of California and Sen. John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia joined Graham in sponsoring the legislation. Graham said he hopes to win the support of Republicans over the next several weeks, given that the legislation is based on recommendations made by members of both parties in the joint committee.

"The intelligence community has been divided by inter-agency rivalries, including competition for funds, and differences of agreeing over priorities," Graham said. "If we are to reduce the chances of a tragedy like September the 11th, the bickering, the back-biting, must end. Experience has shown us that the current structure, under a director of the central intelligence (community) who doubles as the director of the CIA, is ineffective and needs to be reorganized."

A CIA spokesman, where George Tenet is director, said they had no comment.

Graham again criticized not just the actions of the intelligence community before Sept. 11, but the lack of punitive measures taken since then.

"I think the failure to hold anyone accountable after Sept. 11 has contributed to a culture of lack of personal responsibilities among people in the White House and in the intelligence communities," he said.

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