Panel Urges Creation

Of Counterterrorism Center

The government should create a counterterrorism center to improve cooperation among intelligence agencies, the chairman of a commission of anti-terrorism experts said yesterday.

The center also is needed to ensure that agencies provide state and local officials with the necessary information to prepare for possible terrorist attacks, said former Virginia governor James Gilmore, who leads the advisory group established by Congress after bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

"You must get information to where it can do the most good and a simple color-coded warning that says we're in a high level of concern . . . it just isn't enough," he said, referring to the Bush administration's system of terror alerts.

Gilmore, who appeared before a House Armed Services subcommittee, gave a preview of the fourth annual report of the commission's examination of preparations to deal with terrorist attacks. The report is due in December. The commission's first reports warned of the likelihood of devastating attacks, like those of Sept. 11, 2001.

His appearance follows the steady increase of warnings from U.S. officials that more major attacks are likely, especially if the United States invades Iraq. Concerns increased this week with disclosure that intelligence agencies have been picking up fresh signs of a new attack and with the release of an audiotape that analysts believe proves Osama bin Laden is alive.

Hill Report Criticizes EPA

On Watchdog Autonomy

An Environmental Protection Agency watchdog lacks the autonomy needed to do his job and the EPA should consider restoring some of his independence, a congressional report released Wednesday said.

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman put the ombudsman's office under the supervision of the department's inspector general in April.

The ombudsman at the time, Robert Martin, resigned, saying Whitman was retaliating against him for challenging EPA decisions and his office was being stripped of its authority.

The report by the General Accounting Office, the auditing arm of Congress, reiterates those concerns.

Senate Approves Aid

Increase for Afghanistan

The Senate passed legislation calling for more reconstruction aid for Afghanistan and urging President Bush to push to expand the mandate of international security troops now restricted to Kabul.

The House still must act on the bill to send it to Bush as Congress works to complete a lame-duck session.

The Senate passed by a voice vote the measure that calls for $2.3 billion over four years in reconstruction funds for the war-ravaged country.

Legislation that would actually provide reconstruction funds stalled in this session along with most of the rest of the federal budget. Congress is not expected to pass a new foreign aid spending bill until next year.

-- Compiled from reports by the Associated Press