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Congressional  Democrats Seek Streamlined US Intelligence System - 2004-04-01

Congressional Democrats have announced a plan for reorganizing the country's intelligence system, based on lessons learned from both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq. The announcement comes as committees heard more testimony from a U.S. counterterror official about the war against the al-Qaida organization.

Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, says the Intelligence Transformation Act is aimed at streamlining the way information is collected, analyzed, and disseminated within the government.

"We are here today to initiate a call to action," she said. "The problems plaguing American intelligence are too grave and the potential damage to U.S. national security, force protection in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, too important to justify delay."

Among other steps, the legislation proposes a new position of director of national intelligence, to be appointed by the president to serve as his principal adviser on intelligence.

Mrs. Harman said this would result in the head of the CIA being "more like his counterpart in the FBI," adding that the person occupying the new position should probably have cabinet rank.

Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings says the only way to effectively fight the war on terror is to cut down on bureaucracy and duplication that has prevented some 15 government agencies from working together.

"Too much duplication, too much competition, not enough coordination, not enough collaboration," he said.

Mrs. Harman says many aspects of the plan stem from the joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The legislation comes as the bi-partisan September 11 Commission continues its work, and prepares for long-sought public testimony from National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and private testimony from President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Democrats say they presented their proposals to Republicans who control the House, but decided waiting for a Republican response or indications of support was not an option because of the importance of the matter for the country.

Democrats also outlined their proposals in a letter to President Bush. They want the president to remove the White House from all decisions involving declassification of information related to the September 11 attacks, or inquiries into the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Also Thursday, lawmakers heard more testimony Thursday from officials involved in the war on terror about continuing threats from the al-Qaida terrorist organization.

Cofer Black, the State Department's counter-terror chief, said the bombings in Madrid demonstrated al-Qaida's determination to murder Americans and anyone else in the anti-terror war.

"Al-Qaida is determined to strike the United States, our allies and interest wherever it can, using the most destructive means at its disposal," he said. "I have no doubt whatsoever that al-Qaida would use unconventional weapons if it possessed the capability to do so."

Mr. Black went on to say the lessons of Madrid, as well as attacks in other countries, is that "no country is safe from the scourge of terrorism."

Describing Iraq as the current focal point of what he called "foreign jihadist fighters" Mr. Black said U.S. and allied forces are acting aggressively to make sure al-Qaida and other terrorist groups cannot establish Iraq as a new training ground or sanctuary.