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Senate Panel Considers US Intelligence Reform - 2004-07-20


A U.S. Senate panel has begun considering ways to reform the intelligence community, after concluding in a report earlier this month that U.S. intelligence agencies overstated the threat posed by Iraq before the U.S.-led war with that country.

The Senate Intelligence Committee opened the first of a series of public hearings into intelligence reform, nearly two weeks after the panel criticized U.S. agencies for faulty pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

"I believe there is a consensus on this committee, that the intelligence community needs fresh thinking, and fresh leadership," said Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and committee chairman. "Many in the intelligence community agree and understand that they can and must do better."

Among the proposals under consideration by the committee are giving more authority and resources to the Central Intelligence Agency, creating a domestic spy agency, and establishing a new post of director of national intelligence, or D.N.I.

Tuesday's hearing focused on creating a D.N.I position, which would have ultimate authority to coordinate the collection and analysis of information gathered by all intelligence-gathering agencies.

Senator Dianne Feinstein is a co-sponsor of legislation that would do just that.

"Today, the fact that we do not have an independent head of our intelligence assets has become a significant problem," she said.

Many Democrats support the idea, as does Senator Olympia Snow, a Maine Republican.

"I believe that a D.N.I. will facilitate an atmosphere of objectivity, connectivity, information sharing," she said.

But many Republicans are opposed to what they believe would be creating another layer of bureaucracy in the government.

Some Democrats have concerns for other reasons.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, is worried about a national intelligence director in Washington overruling decisions by intelligence officials on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"You would give the D.N.I. the correlation of all the resources and that person sits at the elbow of the president and gives the decision as to how we would use those resources," he said. "I think there is going to be some real nervousness in terms of some combat capabilities as a result."

Ms. Feinstein argues the ultimate decision would always be made by the president, as commander-in-chief.

Creation of a cabinet-level national intelligence director is also expected to be among the proposals in the report by the independent commission probing the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. That report is to be released Thursday.

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