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Sat, March 23

Sept. 11 panel to call for combining spy agencies, member says

WASHINGTON (AP) – A member of the Sept.

11 commission predicts the panel will support centralization of the nation's intelligence agencies as the only way to prevent future terrorist attacks.

"You're going to see unanimous recommendations on the intelligence community ...

They couldn't distinguish between a bicycle crash and a train wreck," commissioner John Lehman, a Republican, said Sunday in previewing a final report due for completion next month.

Centralization will enable information to get to people "in a position to make a difference," the former secretary of the Navy said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Change must be fundamental, Lehman said, "not just tweaking and moving the deck chairs or the organization boxes around," and the FBI should undergo a transformation as well.

He said FBI Director Robert Mueller is on the right track, but "we probably will go further in our recommendations to institutionalize changes" at the bureau.

The comments came amid a debate over the Bush administration's insistence that there were close ties between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, an assertion that provided the White House with an important justification for invading Iraq.

A commission staff report, released last week, said there were contacts between Osama bin Laden's terror network and the Iraqi government, but they did not appear to have produced a collaborative relationship.

Commission chairman Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said "we don't see any serious conflicts" between the panel's and the White House's positions.

At the same time, he said, "We believe ...

that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq."

"Al-Qaida didn't like to get involved with states, unless they were living there.

They got involved with Sudan, they got involved ...

where they lived, but otherwise no," Kean told ABC's "This Week."

Along with differences over ties between Saddam's government and al-Qaida, a new question arose over whether President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney gave the order on Sept.

11, 2001, to shoot down the fourth of the hijacked airliners.

The two told the commission that Bush gave his approval after a discussion with Cheney, who was in the White House command center.

Newsweek magazine reports in this week's issue that an early draft of the commission staff report reflected skepticism by staffers about the account of Cheney getting Bush's approval for the shoot-down order.

After objections by the White House, the panel removed the wording from the draft, it said.

On the issue of al-Qaida's ties to Iraq under Saddam, Lehman defended Cheney, the most aggressive promoter of that idea.

Lehman said new intelligence that "we are now in the process of getting" indicates one of Saddam's Fedayeen fighters, a lieutenant colonel, was a prominent al-Qaida member.


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