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US Lawmakers Investigate Reforming American Intelligence Agencies - 2004-07-11

Following the release of a Senate report that harshly criticizes U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis, lawmakers are shifting their focus to whether and how to make sweeping changes to the American intelligence community.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts said the White House has briefed members of Congress on the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the United States between now and the November presidential election. He spoke about these threats on the NBC television program, Meet the Press.

"Right now, today, we are under threat in the homeland from a possible terrorist attack. And we know that this information is the highest it has been ever since 9/11 [September 11, 2001]," said Mr. Roberts.

The Senate committee issued a 511-page report Friday that blamed U.S. intelligence agencies for overstating the threat of Iraq's weapons in the months leading up to the Iraq war. Senator Roberts said, since a national intelligence report in 2002, the main U.S. intelligence agency, the CIA, has become better about sharing information with lawmakers. But he added that the Senate Intelligence Committee will be examining overall ways to reform the U.S. intelligence structure in hearings later this month.

"I also think that, with due respect to the folks that think otherwise and the CIA, that we have a culture problem and somewhat of a self-denial, and that has to be fixed," he added. "And that's why these reform hearings are so terribly important, but this is an ongoing effort."

Committee vice chairman Jay Rockefeller told Fox News Sunday one topic of discussion is whether there should be a so-called "czar," to coordinate all U.S. intelligence information.

"There are suggestions about a czar or a modified czar, a couple of czars, or whatever," said Mr. Rockefeller. "Let's put that aside for the moment, because that's what we're going to have hearings on.

"We're going to be looking very deeply into exactly how do you do that," continued Mr. Rockefeller. "Do you do that through a vertical power integration? Do you do that through power-sharing, trying to make them share information better than they do now?"

The resignation of George Tenet as director of the Central Intelligence Agency went into effect Sunday. This leaves Deputy Director John McLaughlin in charge, as acting director.

Senator Rockefeller said, although he has no personal grudge against the acting director, he feels the White House should name a permanent CIA head as soon as possible.

"I've long felt that an acting director, as much as I respect and like John McLaughlin, just the fact of something called an acting director, for the next six or seven months, during such a dangerous period for the United States, with all these talks of attacks on the United States is not acceptable," he said.

Senator Roberts agreed on the urgent need for a new CIA director. Both senators added that they know of a handful of well-respected candidates who would be able to receive approval from both the Democratic and Republican parties.