WASHINGTON – The United States needs a national intelligence chief (search) to better coordinate the operations of the 15 government agencies that deal with intelligence matters, the Sept. 11 commission (search) concluded in its report released Thursday.
The report was released at 11:30 a.m. EDT and can be viewed at FOXNews.com by clicking here.
The intel chief idea is being met with mixed reactions from lawmakers, political experts and Washington observers alike, but the split is unusually not along party lines. So far, the Bush administration is cool to the idea.
Former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore — who headed a congressionally mandated panel dubbed the Gilmore Commission, which looked at terrorist threats, until 2001 — said such a position would just add another layer of red tape to an already lethargic governmental process.
"They're really talking about a whole new layer of government," Gilmore told FOX News. "I think there's going to be confusion of leadership here and that's going to be real confusion … this is not a real constructive proposal."
Terrorism analyst Eric Margolis agreed.
"Building more layers of bureaucracy means slowing down the flow of information, slowing down the decision-making process," he said.
What's needed most, Margolis added, is more intelligence field officers who have foreign language skills native to countries in the Middle East, who can infiltrate groups and say, "here's a real threat, even though the bureaucracy doesn't agree with it."
Some lawmakers, for example, are worried that various committees may have to give up some oversight if the position is created.
"I don't think we need one more czar," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told FOX News on Thursday. "If given the opportunity, we can coordinate those things," such as oversight and budgetary authority amongst the various agencies.
"Before we do anything substantial here — before we create a giant bureaucracy … we need to count to five and really study it very thoroughly before we do it," added former FBI special agent and Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating.
Senior CIA officials said Wednesday that they were open to the report's recommendations, but warned that they can't simply embrace a dramatic idea like an intelligence czar without lots of questions.
The officials said the CIA has made changes for the better since the Sept. 11 attacks, and they're worried some of the recommendations may roll back some of those advances.
Ret. Navy Adm. Stansfield, a former CIA chief, noted that the position of director of central intelligence — formerly held by CIA Director George Tenet, who recently resigned — already exists today to coordinate the 15 different intelligence agencies.
"All this proposed legislation is doing is giving that office — which does exist — a little more authority so it can actually do the coordination of those 15 agencies and ensure, for instance, they're at least talking to each other."
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the idea should be put off, at least for a little while.
"I don't think it’s needed right now," Ridge said in an interview with FOX News' Chris Wallace. "What we really needed was a single place where a group of analysts had access to everybody’s information. Information sharing is the key."
But somebody needs to be able to look at the collective activities of agencies like the National Security Agency, Defense Department, CIA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security. That's the reason President Bush created the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, Ridge said, which aims to collect and analyst threat information.
"So I don't think you need a czar," Ridge added. "We already had one level of bureaucracy that we don't need. We don't need more bureaucracy — we need more analysts, we need more Arabic-speaking analysts and we need a lot more human intelligence."
But Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said an intelligence chief is "an excellent idea" "long in the making."
"I hope that we will be able to do something about it in '05," Shelby told FOX News. "We can do better, we've got good people. I think it's a question of culture in the various agencies and the lack of sharing which is deep and probably not easily overcome."
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., called the idea "very appealing."
Former deputy FBI director Skip Brandon said "somebody has to be in charge" of coordinating intelligence, since the DCI, he added, has very little authority over other parts of the intelligence community. "I don't think that's workable," he added.
And with former CIA Director George Tenet now gone — he resigned earlier this month because of what he said were familial obligations — this may be the prime time to attempt a massive structural change within the intelligence community, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., a member of the House Select Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, told FOX News.
Currently, the intelligence community's structure "is a 1947 model, which no business in America would adopt," Harman said. "The way we honor these [Sept. 11 victims'] families and the way we prevent the next attack is address, admit and fix the problems — serious problems in our intelligence community."
FOX News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.