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U.S. intelligence changes in the wind

Police keep watch outside the Westin Hotel in Boston's Back Bay district. FBI agents stormed the hotel Wednesday in search of terrorism suspects believed to be linked to the spate of attacks on the U.S.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Among the casualties of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington was the confidence that U.S. intelligence could shield the nation from such scenes.

As the investigation continues, it has become apparent the terrorists involved planned their devastating mission for months, if not longer. Some even attended flight school on U.S. soil.

Yet when they attacked, it was as if they came out of the blue.

"They utilized American planes and American fuel to use as their bombs," Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, said on the floor of the Senate Wednesday.

"That they went into three major airports, 15 or 20 people, I am told, in teams of three or five, and commandeered four aircraft and attacked two major sites, economically and militarily, and apparently had a target of a third, politically, is a stunning, stunning set of circumstances.

"We need to get some answers," he said.

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The events have led to calls for increased funding for intelligence and for loosening restrictions on the intelligence agencies.

There also have been calls for a review of how such a large operation could have gone undetected and for the creation of a stronger system of counterterrorism.

Former President George H. W. Bush, the president's father and former CIA director, joined in the call Thursday for improving the nation's intelligence systems.

"We've got the best intelligence system in the world. Our president gets better intelligence than, I think the prime minister of England, president of Israel, whatever. But we still need to strengthen it," the elder Bush said in a speech in Boston.

A senior congressional Republican told CNN that rules requiring potential CIA informants to be screened based on their criminal and human rights records are likely to be abolished in legislation Congress will consider next week -- "unless the CIA director gets rid of them before we do."

The legislation would add billions of dollars to fight terrorism, key congressional aides said, and may create a new terrorism "czar" -- along the lines of the drug chief -- reporting directly to the president.

The rules were imposed in 1995 by the CIA director after an agency informant in Guatemala was involved in the killings of an American citizen and of a Guatemalan man married to an American, Jennifer Harbury.

Even so, one U.S. intelligence official said those rules have not played a major role in inhibiting investigations.

"Anything aimed at bolstering human intelligence capabilities against terrorism is a good thing, but the rules have not restricted us in meaningful ways," the official said.

Last year, CIA spokesman William Harlow told CNN, "We have never, never turned down an opportunity to deal with someone, even someone with an unsavory background, if we thought that person could be helpful in our effort to combat terrorism."

The elder Bush said the issue deserves scrutiny.

"We ought to take a good look at whether we've gone too far ... in denying the intelligence community access to human intelligence," he said.

That sentiment was echoed on Capitol Hill as the Senate discussed an emergency spending measure that would boost spending on counterterrorism efforts.

"The real issue remains, How do you deal with an enemy who is willing to give their life to make their point?" said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire.

"Unfortunately, the CIA in the '90s was essentially limited and defanged for all intents and purposes in the area of human intelligence gathering."

-- CNN's National Security Correspondent David Ensor and CNN's Manuel Perez-Rivas contributed to this report.

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