Washington, 23 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- One of the members of the 9/11 commission said she believes the U.S. government will have to adopt at least some of panel's recommendations because of popular concern.
Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, told a news conference in Washington on 22 July: "We think that this issue has resonance in the country. And the proof will be in whether our leaders come together with the same unity of purpose that we have had to create a unity of effort around the counterterrorism mission."
Another member of the 9/11 panel -- officially called the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- was less optimistic. Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey said the changes recommended by the commission will require Congress, the U.S. military, and the intelligence community to give up budget money, assignments, and power -- and that they will do so only reluctantly.
The 9/11 commission's most prominent recommendation is the creation of a new intelligence center and a director, reporting directly to the president, who would have authority over all intelligence groups, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
"In my experience in politics, when somebody's asked to give up something, they will come up with all kinds of reasons, other than the most important one, which is they don't want to surrender authority, to cite for why they won't want to do it. And I am hopeful that the circumstances surrounding this commission will cause Congress to act differently, but I am not optimistic," Kerrey said.
Before the attacks of 11 September 2001, a commission headed by former U.S. senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart warned that "a direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century" and that "in the face of this threat, our nation has no coherent or integrated governmental structures." But no significant measures were implemented to counter this weakness.
On 22 July, U.S. President George W. Bush -- who initially opposed the creation of the 9/11 commission -- called its findings "very constructive." The 9/11 commission's most prominent recommendation is the creation of a new intelligence center and a director, reporting directly to the president, who would have authority over all intelligence groups, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The new director would be responsible for infusing new thinking into the intelligence community. The commission concluded that a lack of imagination kept American intelligence agencies working as if they were still opposing their Cold War adversaries -- not a new, more nimble set of groups such as Al-Qaeda.
Charles Pena is the director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute, a private policy research center in Washington. He tells RFE/RL that he doubts the administration of President Bush or Congress will ignore the panel's advice, given the public interest.
But the big question, Pena says, is which recommendations will be accepted. He says the government should be particularly cautious if it decides to create the office of an overall intelligence director.
According to Pena, merely telling all the intelligence agencies that they answer to a single person does not mean they will automatically coordinate. After all, he says, spies are trained to keep information secret, not share it.
Pena points out that the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force report to the secretary of defense, but have a reputation of being far from coordinated. "I would just exercise caution that that's an easy fix or that creating a secretary-level position is the fix. There's no guarantee that [if] you create a secretary position that everybody talks to each other. You only have to look at the Pentagon to see that," Pena said.
Pena says an intelligence coordinator also must be careful not to blur the distinctions among the various agencies. He noted that a few weeks ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee blamed what it called the CIA's "group think" -- a closed, collective mind-set -- for erroneously concluding that Iraq had a significant arsenal of unconventional weapons.
"There is a good reason to keep these groups separated and not under a single umbrella, and that is to avoid the very 'group think' that seems to have plagued at least the CIA if not the larger intelligence community when it came to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. All of these agencies approach the problem from different perspectives. The ability to look at things differently -- the ability to disagree and dissent -- is important," Pena said.
Finally, Pena says, if the president decides to create an office to oversee intelligence, he must be careful not to make it simply another layer of bureaucracy. He says that would make America even less capable of defending against an adversary that already has struck with uncanny agility.