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US Senator Proposes Cabinet-Level Position to Oversee US Intelligence Agencies - 2003-07-31

A key U.S. Senate Democrat has introduced legislation that would establish a cabinet-level position that would oversee U.S. intelligence agencies. Senator Bob Graham says a director of national intelligence would better coordinate information among agencies to help prevent another terrorist attack like those which occurred on September 11, 2001.

The proposed director of national intelligence would oversee the activities of intelligence agencies, but operate independently from them.

Senator Graham said the position is necessary to overcome the lack of information sharing and coordination among intelligence agencies that he says allowed the terrorist attacks to occur.

"The intelligence community needs a leader with the clout to set common goals, establish priorities, knock heads, and when necessary, assure that the American people are protected," he said.

Senator Graham is a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-chairman of a joint committee that investigated the September 11 attacks. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for president next year.

Meanwhile, Mr. Graham repeated his call on President Bush to release 28 pages of the congressional report detailing his committee's probe of the September 11th attacks.

Those pages are believed to deal with Saudi links to the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon near Washington, and a Pennsylvania field. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.

A growing number of lawmakers, including some Republicans, are calling for the classified portion of the report to be released to reassure Americans of U.S. anti-terror efforts. But Mr. Bush is refusing to do so on national security grounds.

Saudi officials are also urging the 28 pages be made public, saying they have nothing to hide. They say Saudi Arabia is a partner with the United States in the war on terrorism.

U.S. officials acknowledge stepped up Saudi cooperation in anti-terrorism efforts since a May 12 suicide truck bombing in Riyadh. But they say it is not clear if those efforts are enough to stem the flow of funds to charities linked to terrorism.

John Pistole, a counter-terrorism official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, discussed the issue at a hearing Thursday, under questioning by Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

"We simply have not seen the results of those initiatives from a terrorism financing perspective. Since May 12, they have arrested hundreds of people, either detained or killed in an attempt to apprehend," said Mr. Pistole.

"Where do you say the jury is out, on what issue?" asked next Senator Arlen Specter.

"On the terrorism financing issue," answered Mr. Pistole. "As far as the effectiveness of the Saudi initiatives to stem the tide of financing through NGOs (non-governmental organizations) or charitable organizations."

Democratic Senator Carl Levin accused the Saudis of not making good on their promises of cooperation in anti-terrorism efforts.

"The questions that the president asked not too long ago, 'Are you with us or against us in the war on terrorism?' In the case of the Saudis has got to be answered 'yes.' Both," he said. "The rhetoric is that they are with us, but the actions too often have shown they are against us."

Mr. Pistole of the FBI will be among a group of U.S. officials traveling to Saudi Arabia at the end of the week to discuss such concerns with Saudi officials.