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Rockefeller urges permanent senate intel panel { June 10 2003 }

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JUNE 10, 2003
Rockefeller urges permanent status and end of term limits for Senate intelligence panel
By Sarita Chourey

Declaring that the eight-year term limits imposed on members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is "a vast intelligence disservice to America," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is calling for the Senate to remove the term limits and make the panel a permanent standing committee.

As the committeeís ranking Democrat, Rockefeller has questioned whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction to justify invading Iraq.

Rockefeller called the term limit a terrible idea, saying members must step down just as they "are coming to the point where they have the knowledge, the self-confidence and the intuition that branches out from that, which is called creativity."

Rockefeller noted that members of both the House and Senate panels are forced to step down after eight years before they have fully grasped the material and established relationships within the 14 intelligence agencies they oversee that would allow them to "go halfway down some agency and call someone up.

"Thatís terribly important to be able to have that capacity. In eight years, you cannot get it," he declared in an interview with The Hill.

In an obvious reference to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who is a heart surgeon, Rockefeller compared members of the intelligence panel to a surgeon in training who has completed eight years of training but not yet performed surgery.

"Iíve thought a lot about healthcare, and it took me about 12 years to learn healthcare -- to understand what the testimony was about, to ask questions without someone showing you a piece of paper over your shoulder, that you could follow up on the question," he said.

He added that intelligence after Sept. 11 "is much more complicated than healthcare because the factors in healthcare stay about the same but intelligence changes every day."

He added: Every previous commission "that has ever been put together on intelligence has come to exactly that conclusion."

He said that he has discussed the issue with Frist and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and will ask them to take steps to remove term limits and give the committee a permanent status.

That would require gaining bipartisan support for changing Senate rules, according to Jay Carson, a Daschle spokesman, who said Daschle is prepared to discuss the issue with Frist and Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kans.), as well as Rockefeller.

Rockefeller, with six years left in his term on the committee, denied self-interest is involved in his opposition to term limits. "Thatís not my thought," he said. "My thought is that every single Democrat on the Intelligence Committee has been on for two years" except for Carl Levin (Mich.), who is in his sixth year, and that most of the Republicans are serving their first year.

"Is that what you want from the Intelligence Committee? Is that what Americans would expect?" Rockefeller asked.

But he also said his questioning of the administrationís handling of prewar intelligence is not aimed at embarrassing President Bush.

"That is not the point. Politics and intelligence have to be totally separate," he said. "I donít spend any of my time thinking about that." He also defended Vice President Dick Cheney after disclosures that he made multiple trips to the CIA to question analysts studying Iraqís weapons programs and links to al Qaeda.

Rockefeller said that after the Watergate and Iran-contra scandals, the terms were shortened out of fear members would be "co-opted by the CIA."

He explained that the threat of global terrorism has made the work of both the Senate and House intelligence committees more important and difficult.

"Pat Roberts and I talked about it a lot," he said. "You look at the next five years, 10 years, 15 years with the assumption that terrorism is with us for decades to come and that you have to prepare in terms of personnel and technology, data-sharing, data-mining, international cooperation. -- You have to prepare for those years in terms of the resources you have. -- You have to be ahead of the curve. "

He added that the Bush administrationís recently adopted doctrine of preemption puts an added burden on the intelligence community.

"If you put this under the doctrine of preemption, then that triples the importance of doing all of this accurately. -- You better be damn certain you have the best intelligence anybody has ever had."

Rockefeller, who said he reads hundreds of pages of unclassified intelligence material every day in addition to a smaller amount of classified material, conceded President Bush faces a comparable challenge in assessing reports.

Rockefeller is one of three at-large members of the Intelligence Committee, which includes two members of the Foreign Relations Committee and two each from Armed Services and Judiciary.

"Everybody in the world wants to get on the Intelligence Committee," Rockefeller said. "And whether or not that has something to do with -- [term limits], I donít know."

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