US may appoint intelligence 'tsar'

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The Independent US

A huge shake-up of the US intelligence establishment will be recommended this week by a bipartisan commission investigating the 11 September terrorist attacks against the US, including appointment of an "intelligence tsar" with cabinet rank, in overall charge of the dozen or more intelligence-gathering agencies.

A huge shake-up of the US intelligence establishment will be recommended this week by a bipartisan commission investigating the 11 September terrorist attacks against the US, including appointment of an "intelligence tsar" with cabinet rank, in overall charge of the dozen or more intelligence-gathering agencies.

Publication of the 600-page report on Thursday is the climax of an exhaustive and sometimes contentious 20-month investigation by the commission, composed of five Republicans and five Democrats.

President George Bush consented to its creation only after fierce initial resistance. He himself met the commission only in private, for what was technically an exchange of views, rather than formal testimony.

But the report, which appears four days before Democrats open their presidential nomination convention in Boston, is bound to create political controversy and provide both parties with ammunition for the election campaign that lies ahead.

Democrats will seize on the expected reiteration that Iraq was not involved in the 9/11 attacks and that links between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qa'ida were tenuous at best. Instead, the report is said to underline that the terrorist group's links with Iran were more extensive than previously believed. John McLaughlin, the acting CIA director, said yesterday that "about eight" of the 19 hijackers had passed through Iran on their way to the US to prepare the attacks.

Republicans will claim that former president Bill Clinton was at least as remiss as Mr Bush, by failing to act decisively against Osama bin Laden's organisation while he had the chance, after the African embassy bombings of summer 1998, and the attack on the destroyer USS Cole in October 2000.

Various leaks indicate that the report will spare no one from criticism. It will highlight the damaging lack of co-operation and the jealous institutional rivalry between the CIA and the FBI, the most important counter-terrorist agencies.

It is also likely to chide both Democratic and Republican White Houses for not being sufficiently alive to the threat of strikes against the US mainland before the devastating attacks on New York and Washington.

Congress too will shoulder a share of the blame, for poor oversight of the intelligence and counter-terrorism effort. But most important are the recommendations for the future. Proposals that a single figure take charge of the entire $40bn (£21bn) US intelligence operation are not new; indeed the job, in nominal terms, already belongs to the director of the CIA. But, in practice, his writ does not run far.

The State Department has its own intelligence division, as does the Pentagon, which is responsible for the National Security Agency whose eavesdropping and surveillance devours the largest single share of the annual intelligence budget. The CIA and the Pentagon were frequently at odds over Iraq, and co-operation between the CIA and the FBI before the 11 September attacks was often near to non-existent.

Mr Bush is wrestling with the delicate issue of whether to nominate a new CIA director to replace George Tenet, who resigned last month, or leave the present caretaker director, Mr Tenet's former deputy Mr McLaughlin, in charge until after the elections.

Whatever the President's decision, the next CIA director is likely to insist that he be made the new supremo, with real powers to match those he has on paper.

Mr McLaughlin himself made that very point yesterday, in a television interview in which he implied that the new post was unnecessary. "I see the director of Central Intelligence as someone who is able to do that, and is [already] empowered to do so," he told Fox News.

The report, whose findings will be a rare show of unanimity in today's fiercely partisan Washington, is expected to conclude that in an ideal world, the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. It will point to various missed opportunities to catch some of the perpetrators, or to prevent them from entering the country, and to information that was overlooked, pointing in general terms to the use of hijacked aircraft as missiles to attack buildings.

The document will also have strong words about the tardy and confused response of US air defences. But it is unclear whether it will contend the attacks would not have happened, had the various counter-terrorist and intelligence agencies done their jobs properly.

However nuanced its findings, the commission has already thrown much light on the background to the attacks. In previous interim reports, it has debunked assertions that Bin Laden had a $300m fortune to finance a worldwide terror network, and shown that the 9/11 attacks were not the perfectly organised operation they has been supposed.

Original plans, the commission has said, called for 10 separate hijackings on both the east and west coasts. These were dropped after disagreements within al-Qa'ida itself.

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