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Inside Politics

Lawmakers hold closed talks about intelligence overhaul

From Paul Courson
CNN Washington Bureau

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
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Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton of the 9/11 panel talk to CNN's Bill Hemmer about what they hope to learn from testimony.

The 9/11 commission is set to hear witnesses tell about the communications breakdown that day.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Key officials from the Pentagon, the FBI and the CIA met in closed session Thursday with a Senate panel charged with developing legislation to implement recommendations from the independent 9-11 commissionexternal link.

The top agenda item for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing was to discuss how a budget would be developed and implemented under an improved system of intelligence coordination between civilian and military sectors.

"There's a real lack of clarity when it comes to budget matters about who's in charge," said ranking committee Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who spoke with reporters after the hearing ended.

Committee Chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that during the four hours of closed-door talks the most candid disclosures revealed a discrepancy between how the law is written versus actual practice.

"The law says the CIA is to develop the intelligence spending plan for the Department of Defense to carry out," she told CNN. "Instead, the Pentagon is doing most of the developing and implementation."

Neither lawmaker would reveal much detail about the session, and none of the assembled witnesses would speak with reporters before or after the meeting.

Pentagon officials in previous, open hearings on the recommendations have warned against changes that could hurt the ability to get war-fighting intelligence to the battlefield.

Collins, in responding to a question as to whether Defense officials Thursday expressed more willingness to forego some budget power, said, "I don't think the department is ever eager to give up authority," but it is not yet certain how much of a shift would be needed.

Lieberman said Pentagon officials "last week before the Armed Services Committee expressed the willingness to yield part of their authority, but not a lot of it."

During recent appearances before a variety of congressional committees to discuss the commission's proposals, panel leaders Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean made it clear they're open to refinements in the plan.

"Our recommendations are good, and they're urgent," vice-chairman Hamilton said at a hearing of the House Committee on International Relations, adding that "they are not intended to be a final solution and they need to be deliberated."

Both men have addressed questions of balance between the military's use of intelligence assets, and the increased need post-9/11 to use such assets for domestic security.

In prepared remarks that the chairmen have delivered at least twice to the various committees, they have testified that "the threat to us today is not from great armies ... the far greater struggle we face is the war of ideas."

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