Washington–Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Monday he was encouraged by President Bush’s embrace of reform to improve intelligence community cooperation and coordination. But he said he needs more details to know whether the President’s proposals are as bold as those offered by the September 11th Commission.
Lieberman said he was pleased the President agreed to establish a National Intelligence Director and a National Counterterrorism Center to overcome the intelligence community’s failure to “connect the dots” before September 11. However, he stressed that the NID must have control over the budgets of the federal government’s 15 intelligence agencies, the NCTC must be established by statute, and the NCTC must have authority to plan joint operations. The September 11th Commission recommended all three of those powers.
“The President has addressed the top recommendations of the September 11th Commission, and we in Congress must now work with him, with a real sense of urgency, to implement these recommendations,” Lieberman said. “But that’s just a beginning. The Commission has laid out a complete and innovative game plan for us to better protect against terror attack, and Congress and the President must address the entire plan.
“Our current heightened state of terror alert reminds us that our normal way of doing business is no longer acceptable,” Lieberman continued. “Our country is under threat of attack, so we must move – and move boldly – to repair our intelligence vulnerabilities.”
The Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing last Friday and plans another Tuesday specifically to examine how a NCTC would work. Lieberman has said he would work with Committee Chairman Susan Collins, R-Me., to produce legislation creating the NID and the NCTC for full Senate consideration in October.
Lieberman said the September 11th Commission specifically concluded that the NID needed budget authority over the government’s 15 intelligence agencies. President Bush announced only that the NID would coordinate on the intelligence budget.
Lieberman also said that the NCTC must be involved in joint operational planning of intelligence, and not just in the monitoring and coordination role the President outlined.
“If Congress has the will, I believe we could enact intelligence reform legislation before we recess for the elections so that changes are in place before the year is over,” Lieberman said. “That’s an ambitious timetable. But I think it is justified, given that our country is under threat of attack.”