Senior Officials Face Intelligence Questions

The Bush administration has yet to name a new national intelligence director, and the Senate Intelligence Committee's (search) top Democrat says he wants an explanation.

The position, created in last year's intelligence reorganization bill, has been open for more than eight weeks.

The committee's annual public hearing Wednesday on global threats — a rare open session for the secretive panel — was expected to draw a panoply of top officials to face tough questions on a range of issues, including the vacant intelligence position, Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

The lineup invited to participate included CIA Director Porter Goss (search), FBI Director Robert Mueller (search), Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, the State Department's top intelligence official, Thomas Fingar, and acting Homeland Security Secretary Adm. James Loy.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the panel's ranking Democrat, wants to hear why the administration has yet to nominate a new national intelligence director and the consequences of the vacancy, said spokeswoman Wendy Morigi.

The hearing marks the first public appearance for Goss, the former House Intelligence Committee chairman, since his confirmation hearing in September.

Critics say he's politicizing the agency by surrounding himself with Republican advisers from his years in Congress. Yet his allies say he's promoting agency veterans to senior management positions and making changes essential to ensure the intelligence community does not repeat the kind of blunders that led up to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and the faulty prewar estimates of Iraq's weapons.

In the past year, the intelligence community has been faced with a series of negative reports, including the work of the Sept. 11 commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee's inquiry on the flawed Iraq intelligence. And next month, President Bush's commission to investigate the intelligence community's capabilities on weapons of mass destruction is also expected to submit its findings.