Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Time Runs Short for 9/11 Reform

The New York Times
October 19, 2004

Time Runs Short for 9/11 Reform

The Republican chairman of the independent commission on the Sept. 11 attacks is properly begging President Bush to step forward and fight for true intelligence reform from Congress before it is too late. "Time is not on our side," warned the panel's chairman, Thomas Kean. Failure to act forcefully this week makes it likely that this crucial priority will slip into a lame-duck session, when all sense of urgency and voter pressure will be lost.

Although Mr. Bush endorsed a measure to create a powerful new national intelligence director, final Congressional action is reported to be on the brink of failure, with the two houses nowhere near settling their deep rift. Clearly, no campaign priority is more important, but the president has thus far shied from going to the voters to demand final action on intelligence reform.

The Congressional deadlock was created when the House Republican leadership diluted the 9/11 panel's recommendation for a strong intelligence director and added extraneous surveillance and deportation powers. The preferable Senate bill would create a director with budget and personnel clout to fight the confusion that now afflicts the nation's 15 intelligence agencies. As negotiators meet tomorrow, they need to hear a clarion call from the president for the strongest possible reform, stripped of the House's retrogressive add-ons.

The White House insists that the president is committed to reform. But that's what it said about the assault weapons ban earlier this year, when Mr. Bush was doing nothing to save it from expiring. By comparison, Mr. Bush did not hesitate to prod Congress to end its differences and create the new Homeland Security Department during an election-year standoff two years ago. It's not hard to tell the difference between rhetorical commitment and actual involvement. Mr. Bush should urgently appeal to the people now, or he will once more leave the nation's intelligence in disarray.