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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Congress, Reform Thyself

Successful in pushing for restructuring of the nation's intelligence network, Sept. 11 families and investigators began pressing lawmakers on Monday to change the way Congress oversees the fight against terrorism.

Successful in pushing for restructuring of the nation’s intelligence network, Sept. 11 families and investigators began pressing lawmakers on Monday to change the way Congress oversees the fight against terrorism.

“The work of the Congress in reforming its own institutions is unfinished,” said Lee Hamilton, the former vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, whose recommendations last summer spurred the overhaul effort.

Joined at a Capitol news conference by lawmakers and some of those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, Hamilton urged Congress to junk a system that currently has the Department of Homeland Security answer to an estimated 88 committees and subcommittees.

“That’s a recipe for chaos,” Hamilton said.

House Republican leaders have offered a rule change that would make permanent its now-temporary Homeland Security Committee, but critics say the proposal is watered down by the small print.

Curt Weldon, R-Pa., and Peter King, R-N.Y., are pushing amendments that would transfer more authority to the homeland security panel.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is urging colleagues to reject the King amendments. He contends the moves would jeopardize critical law enforcement work and civil liberties by switching responsibility for immigration to a panel with little experience in such matters.

Members of the 9/11 Family Steering Committee, which played a vital role in pushing last year’s changes of the intelligence system, stood before a chart showing the tangled lines of congressional authority over the Department of Homeland Security.

Another group, 9/11 Families for a Secure America, spoke in New York to urge lawmakers to make border security and immigration enforcement top priorities and impose stricter national standards for driver’s licenses than those included in the recent intelligence overhaul legislation.

“Unless we have secure borders it’s a halfway job and not worth doing,” said Peter Gadiel of northern Connecticut, whose son James died at the World Trade Center.

In December, Congress passed a compromise intelligence overhaul bill that created a new post of Director of National Intelligence with authority over the CIA, along with all 15 of the nation’s military and civilian intelligence agencies.

The CIA remains in charge of collecting human intelligence and analyzing all intelligence. President Bush has yet to nominate someone to become the nation’s first DNI.

The new law also provides for wiretapping of “lone wolf” terrorists operating without clear ties to a particular terror network, and increases the number of full-time border patrol agents by 2,000 per year for five years.

The changes are the most far-reaching to U.S. intelligence in nearly 60 years.

The Sept. 11 commission said the intelligence apparatus created after World War II to deal with Cold War-era threats was not effective against the new danger of small cells within global terrorist networks.