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At hearings, a split over spy reform

GOP cautious on creating post

WASHINGTON -- Political jostling over the Sept. 11 commission's proposals intensified yesterday as Democrats and Republicans differed over the idea of creating a new national intelligence director -- and how fast to do it.

Republicans echoed concerns from Defense Department officials that a "czar" endowed with too much authority could hurt intelligence efforts, while several Democrats joined the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission to endorse speedy changes.

In the subtext was the November election campaign, in which Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry has endorsed the commission's proposals. President Bush supports creating a national intelligence director, although not with the full budget power and authority the commission recommended.

"We must get this right," said Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, chairman of the House Armed Services panel. Several Democrats on the panel then left during the session to hold a news conference calling for immediate action.

"If we allow a rush to judgment dictated more by the election cycle than by the demands of national security, then we will make ourselves more vulnerable and cause the nation more harm," Hunter said.

A pair of hearings yesterday were among several planned this month featuring testimony from Pentagon and intelligence officials on recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission.

Members of both parties returned from their August recess to attend the hearings after the commission released a scathing report in late July citing multiple intelligence failures.

House leaders say they want legislation ready in September, and Senate leaders by Oct. 1.

House Democratic leaders have gone further, urging House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, and Bush to call Congress into session in August to implement many of the reforms by the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Representative Jane Harman of California, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence panel, said legislation to create a national intelligence director has been needlessly pondered and then stalled for years, exhausting excuses for further delay.

But Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Republican of California, said he's worried about placing the director position within the executive office of the White House as the Sept. 11 commission proposes, citing concerns that "politics takes over."

At the Armed Services hearing, defense officials warned against a Washington-based czar with too much authority. .

"The best way to avoid group-think is to have people in various locations looking at the various aspects," said Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Stephen Cambone, the Pentagon's undersecretary for intelligence, said creating a new director also would require a reworking of the "relationship between the Department of Defense and the supplier of information in a way a commander on the front line can be assured when he picks up the phone, he can get it . . . so far the best way has been the current arrangement."

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