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THE NATION

Senators Urge Flexibility in Bush's Plan to Expand Cabinet

Politics: His proposal for homeland security must foster cooperation among agencies, Lieberman says.

June 10, 2002|AARON ZITNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers on Sunday warned President Bush that his plans for a new Homeland Security Department may need extensive revision and said more would have to be done to improve intelligence-sharing between the FBI and the CIA.

The president's plan does not address problems at the two agencies, said Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, which has been probing intelligence failures that occurred before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "Absolutely not," he said. "It doesn't address those.... We are going to need the help of this administration to change a lot of things structurally and otherwise with these huge bureaucracies that I believe are not agile--do not, in all occasions, serve us well today."

"I think we need something stronger" to force more cooperation between the FBI and CIA, said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. He said that "what most infuriates and aggravates us ... is the absolute failure of the intelligence community to share information with the law enforcement community, and vice versa. If that had happened, I still think we had a chance to prevent Sept. 11."

Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chairman of the intelligence committee, warned that "if the administration takes the stonewall position that every word in their plan is biblical and if you change it you're unpatriotic, I think that will be a very serious error."

Bush last week called for a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, an idea also proposed by several members of Congress, including Lieberman. The department would include several border control agencies--including the Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service--as well as other security-related offices, such as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Secret Service and the newly created Transportation Security Administration. It would have almost 170,000 employees and a budget of more than $37 billion.

The lawmakers' comments came as the White House continued its public relations offensive Sunday to win support for the new department. Tom Ridge, the president's chief of homeland security, appeared on three talk shows, while chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. was on two.

The new department would analyze intelligence from the FBI and the CIA, although it would not gather information itself. Neither agency would be part of the new department. Critics have said the agencies failed to "connect the dots" of data uncovered by their own agents that, pieced together, might have given clues to the coming Sept. 11 attacks.

For example, the FBI has been embarrassed by reports that as early as July, an agent in Phoenix wrote a memo stating concerns about possible agents of Osama bin Laden taking lessons at American flight schools. A Minneapolis agent, Coleen Rowley, told Congress last week that FBI officials in Washington had hampered efforts by field agents in her office during the summer to investigate one such suspect--Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker.

Graham and Shelby, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," said their inquiry was turning up additional CIA and FBI intelligence lapses that preceded Sept. 11.

"We are already getting significant numbers of people coming to us, either in person or with materials that hadn't previously been known," Graham said. "I think the testimony of Ms. Rowley has given encouragement to folks" who have information about the performance of the intelligence agencies.

Shelby said that more examples of the agencies' failure to share information would become public. "And I would add to that NSA and other members of the intelligence community," he noted, referring to the National Security Agency, which collects foreign communications and signals.

"We're going to find that there's a lot of missed opportunities, and a lot of it will go back to lack of sharing of information," he said.

Senior Bush administration officials said the Homeland Security Department would aim to ensure that important intelligence did not get lost in the federal bureaucracy.

Card said on "Fox News Sunday" that if the proposed department had been in place, "I think there would have been a better chance" that hints of the attacks might have surfaced. "It would be good to have

In addition to the new department, Lieberman, on the same show, recommended establishing a counter-terrorism advisor to the president to coordinate the intelligence work of the FBI, CIA, State Department and Pentagon.

Ridge said administration officials had considered creating a role for the FBI within the new department, "but ultimately the decision was made that it should remain a critical component of the attorney general's office" because of its law-enforcement responsibilities.

"The FBI does more than worry about terrorist attacks," Card said on ABC's "This Week." "And besides, we did not want to create a Homeland Security Department that would look like the old Soviet-era

Lawmakers said they presumed that Ridge would lead the new department, although Bush has not announced his choice.

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