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Panel Said To Call For Intel Czar

Former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, chairman of the commission looking into the Sept. 11 attacks, is interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press" in Washington Sunday, April 4, 2004.
AP
The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is to recommend in its final report the appointment of a top government official to oversee the nation's intelligence agencies, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The report will also contain new evidence of contacts between al-Qaeda and Iran - just weeks after the Bush administration has come under fire for overstating its claims of contacts between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, TIME magazine reports.

A senior U.S. official told TIME that the 9/11 commission has, in the magazine's words on its Web site, "uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 14 'muscle' hijackers - that is, those involved in gaining control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subduing the crew and passengers - passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001.

"Sources also tell TIME that Commission investigators found that Iran had a history of allowing al-Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. This practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guards—in some cases not to put stamps in the passports of al-Qaeda personnel—and otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier.

"The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.

"The senior official also told TIME that the report will note that Iranian officials approached the al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but the offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia."

Citing government officials familiar with the report due out next week, the Times said the Cabinet-level initelligence post would take significant powers away from the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Council, the Pentagon and other agencies that were harshly criticized by the Sept. 11 commission.

Such a proposal would likely draw strong opposition from the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, the newspaper pointed out.

Under the proposal, the CIA director would likely lose much of the nominal oversight he currently has over other intelligence agencies and would report to the president through the new national intelligence director, the newspaper said.

But some analysts aren't sure a super spy is the way to go at the moment.

Peter Brookes of the Heritage Foundation, who used o be a CIA agent, told CBS News Correspondent Dan Raviv, "Right now, we have a hot war. We have real issues in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the war on terror. And doing it right now could create some seams or vulnerabilities in our intelligence coverage."

Also included in the report will be proposals to revamp the way Congress oversees the work of intelligence services and a restructuring of the FBI, the newspaper said.

The newspaper reported that the recommendations were described in separate interviews with three people who have either read or been briefed on the commission's report. All three spoke on condition of anonymity.

The report by the 10 commissioners is also expected to echo the Senate Intelligence Committee report released earlier this month by harshly criticizing the FBI and CIA for poor intelligence-gathering that many members believe could have otherwise prevented the attacks.

It is also expected to stand by the finding in its preliminary staff report last month that said al Qaeda had only limited contact with Iraq before the terrorist attacks, commissioners say. Strong ties were one of the justifications the Bush administration gave for going to war with Iraq.

The Times reports its sources said the commission's proposal for the creation of a national intelligence director "would be similar in many ways to plans offered over the last two years by a presidential advisory panel on intelligence, by the joint Congressional committee that also investigated the Sept. 11 attacks and by a variety of prominent lawmakers, including Senator John Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee.

"That White House advisory panel, led by Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser, called for management of the government's 15 intelligence agencies, and their budget authority, to be put under the direction of a single person in a bid to end the fragmentation that has long plagued the government's efforts to gather and share intelligence.

"The proposal by General Scowcroft remains classified, and it has never been clear whether it envisioned an overall intelligence chief who would also be the director of central intelligence, or whether it would separate those responsibilities," the Times adds.

The 9/11 commission was established by Congress in 2002 to investigate government mistakes before the attacks and recommend ways to better protect the country against terrorists. Commissioners and their staff have interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses, including President Bush, and reviewed more than 2 million documents.

The 500-plus-page document is to be released on July 22.