WASHINGTON – Skeptical House members told Sept. 11 commissioners Tuesday that their plan for a single national intelligence director could jeopardize military operations needing up-to-the-minute information.
Commission Chairman Thomas Kean (search) and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton (search) assured lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing that they had no intention of keeping tactical intelligence from field commanders. But persistent questions demonstrated that some members of Congress do not agree with all the commission's military proposals.
"I don't see any specific mention of failure on the part of a DOD (Department of Defense) agency," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the Armed Services panel.
The leaders of the Sept. 11 commission -- officially titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (search) -- have been lobbying Congress to pass the terror-fighting recommendations in their 567-page report, saying the need is urgent. They testified the same day President Bush announced he was nominating House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., as CIA director.
Members of both parties returned from their August recess to attend the hearing. Before the session, Democrats met behind closed doors with Kean and Hamilton. And House Democratic leaders later held a news conference to urge Congress to return this month to overhaul the intelligence system.
Besides a national intelligence director (search), the Sept. 11 commission proposed a counterterrorism center that would coordinate information from 15 agencies.
Kean, a Republican, and Hamilton, a Democrat, told Hunter they had no specific example of a military intelligence failure, but said the nation's pressing problem was the lack of coordination that prevented agencies from connecting pre-Sept. 11 information.
When then-CIA Director George Tenet declared a war on terrorism prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, Kean said, "Nobody got it in other agencies. It was like he never said it."
Hunter recalled the image of a special forces soldier in Afghanistan who was sitting on a horse, possessing up-to-date intelligence through satellite communications. The military shouldn't have to borrow the satellite from a national intelligence office, he said.
"We did not intend to make any recommendation that would adversely impact the warfighter," Hamilton responded. The commission leaders said their proposal for a national director would protect the military by having a top Pentagon official serve as a deputy to the new official.
Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said the commission's toughest opposition will come from the intelligence agencies that would lose some of their power, saying, "The problem is the arrogance of the entrenched agency bureaucracy."
Kean responded, "We were told by a number of wise heads around this town that these (recommendations) are hard; people before you tried.... and failed. This may be our generation's chance because of the timing," he said in reference to the nation's readiness to respond to the terrorism threat.
Acknowledging skepticism about changing the military intelligence structure, the two leaders said in a joint statement that the secretary of defense should be permitted to change a military operation he opposed.
"Or, the head of the NCTC (National Counterterrorism Center) (search) would have to bump this issue up to the National Security Council and the president for resolution," they added.