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US Lawmakers Launch Hearings on Intelligence Reform - 2004-07-29


U.S. lawmakers Friday open hearings on recommendations by the so-called September 11th commission, aimed at improving the nation's ability to prevent terrorist attacks like those carried out in New York and Washington three years ago.

Although the U.S. Congress is on summer recess until September, lawmakers on the Senate Government Affairs Committee return to work Friday to begin consideration of the proposals in the bipartisan commission report.

Commissioners released their report on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks last Thursday, just as the Senate and House of Representatives were preparing to adjourn.

Senate Government Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins says lawmakers should not allow their recess to delay work toward implementing the commission's recommendations.

"There is no higher priority for our country than to strengthen our capability to detect, deter and respond to terrorist activities," she said. "Because of the urgency of this task, we will begin work right away."

Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will be the first witnesses to appear before the Senate panel.

Senator Collins, a Maine Republican, says her committee will focus on the commission's call for a national intelligence director and a national counter-terrorism center to coordinate the gathering and sharing of intelligence.

Senator Collins, and the ranking Democrat on her committee, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, are expected to hold a series of hearings on intelligence reform, which they hope will yield legislation by October 1.

In the House, there is also increasing political momentum for intelligence reform, just a week after House Speaker Dennis Hastert cautioned against a hasty response to the commission report.

Under pressure from Democrats and commission members, Republican House leaders announced that hearings would begin next week, with more than a dozen planned for the August recess.

For his part, President Bush has been reviewing the commission report this past week. Administration officials say Mr. Bush is considering implementing commission proposals through executive orders.

One week after its release, the commission report remains high on the bestseller lists. The publisher, W.W. Norton, says it has ordered another 200,000 copies printed, after an initial printing of 600,000.

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