Kin of 9/11 victims decry bill deadlock

Progress stalled on bid to create post of national intelligence director

October 27, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Family members of Sept. 11 victims sharply criticized the Bush administration, congressional Republicans and the Pentagon yesterday for the deadlock on legislation that would establish a national intelligence director, a key recommendation of the 9/11 commission.

Mary Fetchet, of New Canaan, Conn., whose son died at the World Trade Center, said the victims' families were "not willing to allow the administration, the Department of Defense, or individuals who are their messengers to stand in the way of making our country safer," a reference to House Republicans she said were stalling the bill.

Fetchet criticized Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for lobbying against the 9/11 commission's recommendation to create a powerful national intelligence director. Myers' stance contradicted the White House's public position in favor of the new post.

Myers conveyed his viewpoint in a letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, expressing his support for a weaker national intelligence director than the 9/11 commission had recommended.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has adamantly opposed the creation of a strong national intelligence director but muted his criticism after the 9/11 commission called for such a post and the victims' families made that their rallying cry.

Democratic former Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, a 9/11 commission member, said he found it "astounding" that in an administration known for its tight lips, Myers would "undercut the president's position."

Fetchet said she hopes Congress can put a final bill on the president's desk before the election, although that is nearly impossible, given Congress' hectic campaigning schedules and House Republican opposition.

The Nov. 2 election would be a good opportunity to hold the administration and House Republicans accountable if the legislation continued to be stymied, Roemer said.

The House and Senate are trying to broker a last-minute deal that would iron out differences in the two chambers' plans to reorganize intelligence agencies. The four principal negotiators are Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican; Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat; Rep. Peter Heokstra, a Michigan Republican; and Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat.

The Senate version, endorsed by the 9/11 panel and, at least publicly, by the White House, would establish a national intelligence director with budget and personnel authority over national intelligence agencies.

The four relatives of 9/11 victims at a news conference yesterday at the Capitol said they support the Senate's bill.

But Myers and the Pentagon have pushed for the House bill, which would limit the director's power over intelligence-gathering units of the Pentagon, including the National Security Agency, the largest unit of the intelligence community.

The Pentagon has maintained that the creation of a national intelligence director might affect the quality of battlefield intelligence. Lieberman and Collins offered a concession over the weekend that expressly left the Pentagon in charge of intelligence considered to be tactical.

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