WASHINGTON – Intelligence officials said Wednesday their organizations have made strides since the Sept. 11 attacks, and they joined former government officials in cautioning Congress against moving too far or fast in the name of intelligence reform.
Responding to the Sept. 11 Commission's (search) finding that officials lacked imagination in preventing terrorist attacks, CIA Deputy Director Jami Miscik said the agency has even consulted with science fiction writers and Hollywood producers to get fresh ideas.
Miscik and other top CIA (search), FBI (search) and State Department officials appeared at a rare public hearing by the House Intelligence Committee. The officials generally said they don't oppose some changes, but reforms should be based on the work of intelligence work today -- not on problems that existed before Sept.11, 2001.
"That older community ... seems to be preserved in amber in a series of reports that do not reflect the changes we have made," said Mark Lowenthal, assistant director of central intelligence for analysis and production.
Miscik said the intelligence overhaul debate should be shaped by realistic expectations of what analysts can do. "They cannot give you certainty in an uncertain world," she said.
Pressure for changes has built swiftly after the bipartisan commission issued its report two weeks ago. Lawmakers have interrupted their summer recess for hearings. House leaders say they want legislation ready in September, Senate leaders by Oct. 1.
The Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman of California, said her panel "appears to be moving in reverse" -- holding hearings instead of working on overhaul bills already introduced.
But Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., said, "We cannot afford to make changes blindly or in an unnecessary haste. We can ill-afford to rush to judgment any more than we can tolerate needless delay."
Former officials and think-tank analysts cautioned the panel against rushing to a blanket endorsement of the report.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre said the commission examined only problems surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks, notably intelligence agencies' failure to connect clues that might have led to discovery of the plot.
But the Iraq war identified other problems, especially a "group-think" (search) mentality in which agencies were reluctant to challenge commonly held views on Saddam Hussein's arsenal.
"We have a connect-the-dots problem, and we've got a group-think problem. And we've got to solve them both. But if you optimize a government solution on only one of them, you make the other worse," said Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (search).
Michael O'Hanlon, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, noted the criticism about a lack of imagination. "You could also say in Iraq ... we had too much imagination. We imagined things that weren't there."
Hamre and former National Security Agency (search) Director William E. Odom expressed doubts about the proposed national intelligence director position. Hamre said he feared it would be poorly implemented and Odom said the commission's proposals could "cause far more problems than they will solve. "
O'Hanlon said he supports creating the national intelligence director, but doesn't consider it the highest priority.
Odom said the most important change would be one not in the commission's report: removing counterintelligence responsibilities from the FBI.
"As long as the FBI has counterintelligence, you will have poor counterintelligence. No agency with arrest authority will ever share intelligence," Odom said.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) has endorsed the commission's proposals. President Bush (search) announced Monday he supports creating a national intelligence director, though not with the full powers the commission had recommended.
At a campaign rally in Davenport, Iowa, Bush acknowledged the debate among lawmakers about the intelligence director's powers.
"Reform is never easy in Washington," Bush said. "There's a lot of entrenched interests there. People don't like to have the status quo challenged. It's not enough to advocate reform. You have to be able to get it done."