9/11 Panel Chairman Urges 'Vote' on Report


The New York Times

August 5, 2004

President Bush and Senator John Kerry respond to the commission's final report in determining how they vote.

The chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a Republican and former governor of New Jersey, said he was "gratified" by the way both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry had responded to the recommendations of the bipartisan commission, which has called for an overhaul of intelligence agencies.

But despite his praise for Mr. Bush, Mr. Kean's comments in an interview carried an implicit warning to the president, who has already rejected specific recommendations in the commission's report, including its call for the establishment of a national intelligence director who would have direct control over the budgets and personnel of the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies.

Mr. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, has endorsed all the commission's recommendations, including the appointment of an intelligence director with the full authority envisioned by the commission, and he has called for quick follow-through by Congress and the White House. He has accused Mr. Bush of sluggishness in responding to the commission's report.

Mr. Kean said he thought it was appropriate for Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry to be judged in the election by the way they respond to the work of the commission.

"I think it will be an issue and should be an issue," said Mr. Kean.

"And even if the commission didn't want to make it an issue, the families would," he said, referring to the victims' families. "The families have told me that, as an organization, they are going to monitor the elections, both at the presidential level and at the Congressional level. They are going to alert people as to where the candidates stand on these recommendations, and that's wonderful."

Mr. Kean said he was pleased that Mr. Bush had endorsed the concept of a national intelligence director, a major recommendation in the report, and said he was optimistic that the White House would eventually come around and endorse the commission's call for the job to have direct control over the government's $40 billion annual intelligence budget and the hiring and firing at Central Intelligence Agency and the nation's 14 other intelligence agencies.

"I think they're not finished," he said of Mr. Bush and his aides.

"The president of the United States, he should be expected to move more slowly," he said. "But while there has to be due deliberation, there's also a sense of urgency."

In announcing this week that he supported the idea of a national intelligence director, Mr. Bush left vague many of the job's responsibilities, and White House spokesmen have since made clear that under Mr. Bush's plan, the intelligence director would not have the direct power over intelligence budgets and personnel that the commission had wanted.

"We believe that the position has to have budget authority and appointive authority," Mr. Kean said, echoing comments of recent days by other members of his commission. "Otherwise it's not going to be much better than what we have now.''

Recent polls show that Mr. Kean and his commission, which was created over the initial opposition of the White House, have substantial credibility with the public. Their 567-page report is a nationwide bestseller.

Still, turning the commission's credibility into legislation to overhaul the intelligence agencies is expected to prove a battle on Capitol Hill, and the panel's central recommendations received a chilly reception on Wednesday from some Republican members of the House intelligence committee.

The Republicans' skepticism was expressed at an unusual midsummer committee hearing called to review the recommendations of the Sept. 11 panel; the hearing opened with public wrangling between the committee's Republican chairman and its ranking Democrat, who accused the committee of moving too slowly in responding to the commission.

"Terrorists are not waiting,'' said the Democrat, Representative Jane Harman of California. "They are not waiting until after our election to plot their attacks against us."

Ms. Harman said the committee should move immediately to draw up a bill to put the commission's recommendations into effect.

The chairman, Representative Porter J. Goss of Florida, replied, "I take to heart your sentiment that we need to be acting now, which is indeed why we're taking the unusual step of being here today."

But Mr. Goss, who has been mentioned repeatedly in recent weeks as a candidate to be the next director of central intelligence, warned that legislation adopted in haste "could wreak havoc if we get it wrong, so we aren't going to go there."