Lieberman Underscores Need to Act on 9/11 Commission Recommendations

Washington–Following is the text of Senator Lieberman’s opening statement prepared for delivery for the September 8 hearing of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on the 9/11 Commission Recommendations:

Good morning Madam Chairman and thank you for convening this hearing and for perseverance in this process that began in July. And good morning to our distinguished witnesses: Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin, and FBI Director Robert Mueller. I want to thank you both for your decades of public service and standing strong in your posts at this critical time when your nation needs you. As we prepare to listen to your testimony, I note that this Committee is nearing the end of the hearing process and a picture has begun to emerge. My support for a strong National Intelligence Director has been strengthened by the testimony we have heard about the way the intelligence community’s budget is developed and about the respective roles of the Department of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence. It seems clear that the partnership is not equal, with 80 percent of the Intelligence Community’s budget under the Defense Department, while the DCI is held most responsible for intelligence failures. We have heard concerns expressed that creating a strong National Intelligence Director will make it more difficult for our combatants in the field to receive the intelligence they depend on to prevail. I am sensitive to this concern. But we have also heard ample evidence that a National Intelligence Director will, indeed must, continue to make sure that the National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial Agency and other national assets serve the needs of troops in the field, while also ensuring that other critical national priorities are met. It is also clear from our hearings that the Director of Central Intelligence lacks the budget and personnel authorities necessary to achieve the kind of unity of effort that we need across the intelligence community. For example, while the present Director of Central Intelligence has authority on paper to transfer personnel or funds between agencies, it can take as long as five months. And even then, only if the affected department heads approve. This does not provide the flexibility needed to quickly meet emerging threats. Our hearings have thus far answered several critics of the commission’s recommendations who contend that the intelligence failures that did occur were solely at or between the FBI or CIA. But, as more than one witness has stated, when the Director of Central Intelligence declares war on Al Qaeda, as far back as 1998, and the heads of major intelligence organizations don’t respond, then the lack of real authority by the head of the intelligence community is a major problem that we must address. I believe that now, especially since the President has issued an executive order to in fact strengthen the DCI- the discussion is not about whether or not to create a strong National Intelligence Director – but how to make sure that the NID we do create has enough real power to do what no DCI has really been able to achieve – unity of effort across the intelligence community. That is what the Commission recommended and we must accomplish. Madam Chairman, I am aware that there have been some important improvements in cooperation among different agencies. These have led some to argue that the Commission’s recommendations are based solely on the situation prior to 9/11, and do not take in account progress since then. The men and women who work in our intelligence community, in the CIA, the FBI, many agencies, are working to overcome institutional barriers and keep the American people safe. But it is clear from the many hearings that we’ve had in Governmental Affairs and other Committees that we still have a long way to go. I am particularly interested in hearing from Director Mueller on the progress you are making transforming the FBI and how the Commission’s findings and recommendations can help you succeed. As you know, the Commissioners considered, and did not recommend, that we create an independent domestic intelligence agency to make up for evident short falls in the FBI’s counterterrorism operations prior to 9/11. They said a new domestic agency would not be needed – if the other recommendations to especially establish a strong NCTC are adopted. I know that was welcome news to you. They recommended, among other things, that the FBI establish a specialized and integrated national security work force with all of the skills needed to get the job done. I know the FBI is hard at work at this task. Madam Chairman, some have stated that, since the President issued his executive orders, we should all slow down and give them a chance to work. The President’s Executive Orders make some steps in the right direction. However, alone they cannot forge the kind of change that is necessary to fully implement the Commission’s recommendations. In fact, the White House noted that its executive order on intelligence community reform is an interim step until legislation can be passed. There are also major differences in the Commission’s recommendations and the content of the Executive Orders. For example, the President’s order gives the DCI more reach and monitoring capability with respect to the intelligence budget, but not the authority to receive the appropriation, execute the budget, and apportion it out to the agencies as called for by the Commission. Without these changes, fundamental reform cannot occur. The President’s order setting up a national counterterrorism center similarly falls short of what the 9-11 Commission recommended. The NCTC would conduct “strategic operational planning” but not plans for joint counterterrorism operations, which is the heart of the Commission’s proposal. Recall the Terrorist Threat Integration Center established by the President two years ago and here we are again still trying to get it right. The Commission has pressed us to act urgently. We cannot and should not wait and see if these executive orders work before acting to protect the American people. As we consider all the testimony we have heard, it has become clearer than ever that fundamental, institutional change is needed and must be written into law. With all we know now, the phrase: “Proceed with caution,” could just as easily mean: “Move slowly at your own peril.” Thank you Madam Chairman.