The Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee yesterday called on colleagues to be cautious in legislating reform of the intelligence community, prompting criticism from the panel's ranking Democrat that the process is moving too slowly.
Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), a former CIA case officer, opened the panel's first hearing in response to the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations, telling colleagues that "we can ill afford to rush to judgment, any more than we can tolerate needless delay."
"The unintended consequences of action we take could wreak havoc if we get it wrong. So we aren't going to go there," said Goss, who has introduced his own bill to reorganize the nation's intelligence system.
Goss's statement drew an immediate response from the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), who noted that several other congressional committees have also begun hearings on intelligence reform.
"While they are moving forward . . . this committee appears to be moving in reverse," she said. Harman has introduced a bill of her own, which, like Goss's, includes provisions similar to the commission's recommendations. She urged Goss to "mark up and vote on real legislation that will make our country safer."
The hearings were scheduled for the August congressional recess after the Sept. 11 commission proposed a revamping of the U.S. intelligence community to prevent a repeat of the failure to prevent the 2001 terrorist attacks. The commission proposed appointing a national intelligence director who would have budgetary and personnel authority over the CIA and the 14 other agencies responsible for U.S. intelligence, and creation of a national counterterrorism center to oversee anti-terrorist operations across the government, both in the United States and abroad.
Commission members and others are pressing Congress to move quickly. But Goss's panel, which has three other hearings scheduled for this month, is among several that appear to be working on a slower track. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has one hearing scheduled this month and does not plan to get into details of a reform package until September. That also appears to be the plan of the Senate Armed Services Committee, another panel with long-standing interests in the intelligence community and its $40 billion budget, more than 85 percent of which goes to the Pentagon.
Missing from the list of intelligence officials who have testified this week has been any representative of the Defense Department or its intelligence-collection agencies. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said there is "merit" in the 9/11 commission proposals, a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday. He described Rumsfeld as "a detail man" who is looking at all aspects of the reform proposals. In the past, Rumsfeld has firmly opposed any changes that would loosen his control over the Pentagon's intelligence-gathering agencies or their budgets.
Senior aides on House and Senate committees said yesterday that Rumsfeld is not scheduled to testify before September, and two sources said that may have kept lower Pentagon officials from appearing.
Goss said he would not expect Rumsfeld as a witness before September, and noted one of the major issues in the reorganization is the tension between serving the intelligence needs of the military and other agencies.
Earlier this week, President Bush endorsed the Sept. 11 commission recommendations but with significant restrictions: He wants a new national intelligence director to help manage -- but not control -- the budgets and personnel of the 15 intelligence agencies.
At yesterday's hearing by Goss's panel, five senior intelligence officials said they believe the new director would be ineffective without budget authority.
Charles E. Allen, the assistant director of central intelligence for collection, agreed that central management of the community needed to be strengthened, but said the new person "must have adequate programming and budgetary authority." In his current role, Allen performs a community-wide function, by coordinating and directing the managers of the intelligence-gathering agencies across the government, and settling problems over which targets are going to be covered by technical means and agents.
Mark M. Lowenthal, the assistant director of central intelligence for analysis and production, agreed with Allen on the benefits that could come with stronger authority in a single individual, but cautioned about giving him "responsibilities much larger than the authority he is granted."