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Critics: Bulk Up U.S. Intel Chief

CIA, DIA, NSA, NRO, and FBI Seals over a silhouette of a man
AP / CBS
A new national intelligence director may get more power than President Bush prefers, congressional committees charged with fulfilling the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations have indicated.

Creating a new director and agency with no real power to make 15 sometimes-turf-conscious spy agencies coordinate and consult won't make the nation any safer, Democrats said as they used congressional hearings to criticize Mr. Bush's proposal.

"We have to make sure we're driven more by 9/11, than by 11/2," the date of this year's presidential election, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said at a Senate Governmental Affairs hearing on the commission's recently released report.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., meanwhile, told a House Government Reform Committee hearing: "Another figurehead is not what the 9/11 commission recommended and what America needs."

Congress is readying legislation that would create a new national intelligence director along with a new National Counterterrorism Center, as envisioned by the 9/11 commission to coordinate and control the nation's intelligence communities.

Mr. Bush supports creating the new position but rejected calls to let the director control all intelligence budgets and choose who leads the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies.

The president also turned aside the commission's idea to place both the counterterrorism center and the director within the White House.

But John Lehman, a former Navy secretary who worked under President Reagan, also told the House panel that a new director position "makes no sense at all unless it has the power to break up bureaucratic layers, to remove bureaucratic layers."

Without that authority, "I worry that that would create a kind of Potemkin national intelligence director, you know, where you see the facade but there's not real authority behind it," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

"If you don't have the authority to pick the people, isn't a national director just a shell game and a shell operation?" added Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

The wrangling over the director's power is likely to be only the beginning of the fights over the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations.

House leaders say they want bills ready in September, Senate leaders by Oct. 1. But some intelligence officials warned Congress against rushing legislation into law just so they can say they took action.

"We have to move thoughtfully," said John Brennen, director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center. "What I don't want to do is to move and to have a dropped piece of information because, in fact, we went through rapid change very quick."

House and Senate leaders also will have to reconcile their ideas about what should be done in an election year when no politician wants to be seen as standing on the sidelines in improving the government's anti-terror efforts.

In addition, several committees on both sides of the Capitol already have jurisdiction over difference parts of the intelligence community and stand to lose that authority if the agencies are combined or start reporting to a new agency. Some lawmakers say it could be months before a final solution is crafted.

"We want to get it right, but this committee is not going to be the last word," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.

But relatives of Sept. 11 victims urged Congress not to get bogged down in political bickering, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr

"Too many of us lost someone we cherished on September 11th," said Beverly Eckert, whose husband died in the attack. "Too many of us also lost our faith in a government we had blindly trusted to protect the people we loved."