WASHINGTON -- The White House and senators from both parties raised objections Friday to one of the key reforms recommended by the Sept. 11 commission, even as the panel's leaders warned that the nation is at greater risk of terrorist attack if the changes are not enacted quickly.
The criticisms from Capitol Hill and the Bush administration represent the first significant challenge to a central recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission, which argues in its 567-page final report that a single intelligence director should work out of the president's office to coordinate the war on terrorism.
During the first congressional hearing on the issue Friday, several GOP and Democratic lawmakers raised concerns, arguing that placing an intelligence director and a National Counterterrorism Center inside the Executive Office of the President could create greater potential for misuse of the information and to the independence of U.S. intelligence analysts.
At the White House, where officials are formulating their own package of reform proposals, a senior official, speaking on background to reporters, also indicated that the administration would oppose any such arrangement. The official said Bush "wants to protect intelligence agencies from any undue influence" and "ensure that intelligence analysts maintain their autonomy.
"It is fair to say that there (are) some very important potential consequences to the placement of the office," the White House official said.
But the commission's leaders, Chairman Thomas Kean, R, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, D, staunchly defended the proposal during their first testimony on the panel's recommendations, telling the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that congressional oversight and other safeguards would help ensure that intelligence information was not politicized by the White House.
Kean and Hamilton also urged senators to act quickly to adopt the Sept. 11 commission's reforms.
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