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US Senate Begins Debate on Intelligence Reform - 2004-09-28

The U.S. Senate has begun debate on legislation to reform the nation's intelligence community.

The Senate legislation would implement the dozens of recommendations made by the bipartisan commission that probed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Chief among the proposals is one that would create the position of a national intelligence director who would coordinate the sharing of information among the 15 federal agencies that gather intelligence.

"As the head of the new National Intelligence Authority, this presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed official will be truly in charge of our intelligence community," said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the Republican chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which drafted the legislation. "No longer will there be confusion and doubt about who is in charge and accountable."

The legislation would also establish a counterterrorism center.

The measure calls for the reforms to be put in place over a six-month period, and gives the president considerable discretion in implementing them. The bill also requires a report to Congress one year after the reforms are made.

The legislation aims to prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The September 11th commission noted a series of intelligence failures prior to the 2001 attacks.

Senate leaders hope the chamber will vote on the measure before lawmakers adjourn at the end of next week.

But some lawmakers are concerned that the political pressures of a presidential election year are forcing hasty consideration of the complex issue of intelligence reform.

Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, disagrees. "The work of protecting our nation from terrorist attacks cannot wait, it must not be delayed." he said.

A number of Senators are expected to introduce amendments to correct what they believe are deficiencies in the bill.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, for example, believes a national intelligence director should serve a five or 10-year term, rather than the four or eight-year term of a president who appointed him or her, as the legislation allows. "It really is necessary to give this new national intelligence director some separation from the president's policies, or the congress' policies."

The House of Representatives is considering its own version of intelligence reform legislation.