Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US Congress sets August hearings on intelligence

UNUSUAL In Washington, August is normally a month for vacations. The release of the Sept. 11 commission's report has scuppered some plans for fun at the beach

AP , WASHINGTON

Thomas Kean, chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, right, prepares to sign copies of the commission's final report for family members of attack victims on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

US Senate and House committees will hold an unusual round of August hearings on intelligence reform after leaders of the Sept. 11 commission warned that the US remained vulnerable to another deadly terror strike.

"The American people expect us to act," Senator Susan Collins, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said on Friday.

"We don't have the luxury of waiting for months," she said.

Collins, a Republican, and the committee's top Democrat, Senator Joseph Lieberman, said they would invite the commission's leaders, Republican Thomas Kean and Democratic vice chairman Lee Hamilton, to testify.

The hearings will focus on two of the commission's key recommendations: creating a national counterterrorism center and a new director of intelligence to be confirmed by the Senate and with Cabinet-level authority over budgets and intelligence policies. Congress began a recess on Friday that was to last until after Labor Day.

"This is a crisis. People died, and more people will unless we get it together," Lieberman said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat, also urged the committee to introduce legislation by Oct. 1 addressing the intelligence proposals, and the committee said it would do so.

Late Friday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican, who has expressed doubt that lawmakers would have time to consider a sweeping intelligence overhaul this year, said he and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay would also direct House committees to hold hearings next month and make recommendations for legislation in September.

Earlier in the day, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Hastert in a letter to reconvene the House next month, and Hastert responded that he would seek hearings "over the next several months." He later announced the hearings for next month.

"The House plans to immediately assess everything we have done ... since Sept. 11 and everything more we need to do," Hastert.

Kean, a former New Jersey governor, and Hamilton, a former congressman, said on Friday that swift action was critical. They said Congress should get to work after the summer recess while the next president -- either President George W. Bush or Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry -- must push for the overhaul soon after taking office in January.

"We're in danger of just letting things slide," Kean said.

"Time is not on our side," Kean said.

In its blistering report on Thursday, the panel cited multiple intelligence failures that contributed to the deadliest terror attack in US history. The unanimously endorsed report could spell trouble for Bush.

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