Springfield State Journal Register

July 23, 2004

LaHood raps intelligence plan; Durbin supports it


WASHINGTON - Rep. Ray LaHood criticized the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission’s call Thursday for the creation of a new intelligence center and a high-level national intelligence director.

“This idea of creating another stovepipe, another layer of bureaucracy, I think is a little foolish,” said LaHood, R-Peoria, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “To think that you’re going to have one person come in and wave a magic wand and get everyone to talk to one another is nonsense. That’s not going to work.”

LaHood had opposed creation of the commission, as the Bush White House did initially, and has frequently complained that the inquiry has had a partisan tone. Improvements in intelligence-gathering already have been made since Sept. 11, he contends.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised the commission’s recommendations, as did Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry.

“The suggestions that they made I think are extremely positive,” Durbin said in a conference call with reporters arranged by the Kerry campaign. “The idea of having someone with more authority and responsibility in intelligence gathering is something that’s long overdue.”

Durbin, who is in his fourth year as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also said that Congress “should take seriously” the commission’s recommendations to either combine the now separate House and Senate intelligence committees or to combine authorizing and appropriations authority in each body.

“We haven’t done our job as well as we should,” Durbin acknowledged. “The suggestion of a joint committee is one we should take seriously, as well as the idea of closer coordination of authorizing and appropriations.”

LaHood, who has hopes of chairing the House Intelligence Committee next year, said he doubts the committees can be combined.

“I think it’s difficult to get the Senate to go along with that. They like to do their own thing,” he said.

Durbin and LaHood agreed with the panel that the current eight-year term limit on the intelligence committees isn’t enough.

Both say it takes longer to build an understanding of complex intelligence issues. Durbin wants to eliminate any term limit, while LaHood wants to extend it to 12 years.

“It takes two to four years just to learn the language of the intelligence community and just to learn all the different agencies and to learn how everything works,” said LaHood, who has served six years on the committee.

The final report released Thursday was signed by all commission members - five Democrats and five Republicans, including former Illinois Gov. James Thompson, who called the reform recommendations “urgent.”

President Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, took a cautious approach, praising the commission’s work but stopping short of embracing its recommendations.

“We will look at their recommendations carefully,” Hastert said. “I will ask our committee chairmen to hold hearings on these recommendations over the next several months, so we can act on them as quickly as possible.”

With Congress poised to leave for its August recess and an election looming, little action is expected this year.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., who will retire in January, said: “Congress should take time to carefully consider the commission’s 567-page report and its recommendations. I agree generally with the commission’s finding that Congress should act to centralize and unify our disparate intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies.”

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., commended the commission members’ work, saying: “We must study their recommendations and act quickly to prevent another such tragic event. We must not listen to those who say we cannot defeat this enemy - or perhaps even more disconcerting, that we should seek permission from others to defend ourselves.”
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