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Inside Politics

9/11 chairman: 'Complete transformation' needed

Kean: 'Reorganizing government alone is not enough'

The independent 9/11 commission released its report on July 22.
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Tom Kean
Lee Hamilton
Acts of Terror
September 11, 2001

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairman of the 9/11 commission told a Senate hearing Friday that the panel's proposals to restructure the intelligence community are only part of what is needed to improve security.

The report, released last week, called for a national intelligence director, a National Counterterrorism Center and tougher congressional oversight. (9/11 panel report: 'We must act')

"Changes in government organization are vastly important but are still only part of what we need to do," said former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, chairman of the commission that spent two years studying the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Kean said that strengthening border security is as vital as organizational changes, but would have significantly more costs -- and possibly be less attractive for Congress to take up.

He also stressed the importance of the commission's strong recommendation that certain key nominations of an incoming president's staff -- having to do with security and defense -- be submitted to the Senate for confirmation by a certain date before the inauguration and that the Senate treat those nominations "expeditiously."

"The government is extremely vulnerable during a transition" between two administrations, he said.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs got the first congressional crack at the commission's leaders after the blockbuster release of its report.

At least than six House committees plan to hold hearings -- scrambling after House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois., came under harsh public criticism for saying that Congress was "unlikely" to consider any of its recommendations before the end of the year.

Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton, a former U.S. representative from Indiana who served as chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Select Intelligence Committee, told the committee that America's intelligence community needed wholesale reform.

The country must "carry out all the important recommendations we have made in ... other areas," Kean said, adding that "reorganizing government alone is not enough to make us safe and more secure."

"If we favor one tool while neglecting others, we are still going to leave ourselves vulnerable and will weaken our security," he said.

Hamilton said the commission recognized major problems hindering the performance of the intelligence community, from a lack of common standards and practices and a divided management system to a director of central intelligence tasked with too many jobs and a community that is "too complex and too secretive."

Nothing short of a "complete transformation" would do, he said.

Kean and Hamilton fended off criticism that their recommendation of a director of intelligence -- operating out of the president's office -- would be too close to the executive branch. Also drawing fire was their recommendation that domestic counterterrorism duties remain under the FBI's purview instead of creating a domestic intelligence organization.

"That's just not something that fits in here," Hamilton said of the domestic agency.

"We do not see the creation of a new domestic intelligence collection agency, because it would be too risky for civil liberties, take too long and sever an important link between criminal investigation and intelligence gathering," he said.

Kean said increased Congressional oversight over counterterrorism efforts would counter any tendency of the national intelligence director to slide into a partisan role.

Kean and Hamilton said their report clearly indicated that no one was in a position in 2001 to bring the information together to stop the terror attacks, and that a similar situation exists now.

"I do not find anyone today really in charge," Hamilton said. "You cannot possible argue today that the director of central intelligence is in charge."

Opening Friday's session, committee chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the hearings -- and work on legislation from the hearings -- must proceed in a "bold but not reckless" manner that would ultimately entail "a fundamental overhaul of our intelligence structure and a sea change in our thinking."

Meanwhile, a commission official said members of the panel will spend the next three weeks giving speeches and local media reviews to build support for the commission's recommendations to overhaul the nation's intelligence structure.

Democratic commission member Richard Ben-Veniste will kick off the road trip next Tuesday by traveling to Seattle with Republican commission member Slade Gorton, who used to represent the state of Washington in the U.S. Senate.

The House Intelligence Committee opens what could be the most contentious hearings on the report Wednesday.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, complained in a letter to committee chairman Rep. Porter Goss, R-Florida, that the hearings' focus was too vague and broad to make any real progress.

She also said that Democrats were not given enough opportunities for input.

An aide to Goss said Harman's was "not a factual letter" because he tried to get her input but was unable to do so, and he intentionally left the hearings broad and vague because he wanted to "cover as much ground as we can" on the 957-page report. (Dispute over House hearing)

In addition to the Intelligence Committee, the other House panels planning to examine the report are Armed Services, Financial Services, Government Reform, Homeland Security and International Relations.

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