Rejecting a recommendation expected this week from the Sept. 11 commission, the CIA's acting director said Sunday a new national intelligence chief is unnecessary and that intelligence agencies have made changes since the 2001 attacks to better protect the country.
John McLaughlin said "a good argument can be made" for a Cabinet-level position to oversee the nation's 15 intelligence agencies and control their budgets, but added that "it doesn't relate particularly to the world I live in. I see the director of Central Intelligence as someone who is able to do that and is empowered to do so under the National Security Act of 1947."
McLaughlin, who took over at the CIA when Director George Tenet left on July 11, also said the agency has disrupted a number of al-Qaida plots to mount attacks by air, sea and other methods in the United States.
"It's important to remember here that for these people, an attack in the United States is the brass ring," he told "Fox News Sunday."
The new post would represent the most drastic step in structuring the intelligence agencies since the CIA was created after World War II.
"With some modest changes in the way the CIA is set up, the director of Central Intelligence could carry out that function well and appropriately," McLaughlin said.
But two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee - Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. - said they would be open to considering the recommendation for a new intelligence chief.
"When you take a look at how important intelligence must be for our future, you realize that the current situation is untenable," Durbin said on CNN's "Late Edition." Chambliss cautioned against simply creating more bureaucracy.
The CIA director now has loose authority over the country's 15 intelligence agencies. But the commission in a preliminary report found that the director did not hold enough power because the Pentagon controls more than 80 percent of the nation's intelligence budget. As a result, CIA requests to other agencies are often ignored.
The commission's final report, expected to be released Thursday, will highlight intelligence failures by the CIA and the FBI that enabled the Sept. 11 attacks to occur.
But McLaughlin was quick to point out that intelligence agencies have improved intelligence-gathering and operations since the attacks. "The intelligence community of that day was for counterterrorism, 300 people spread-eagled across a dike. We now have a 100 people who do nothing but watch listing alone," he said.
Potential attacks that have been disrupted since then were in the early stages of planning, he said. He added that al-Qaida's leadership has been dealt a blow. "They have lost a lot of the territory that they once controlled. They have more trouble moving money. And they have more trouble communicating internally," he said.
Still, the threat to America remains. "We can be successful 1,000 times and these people have to be lucky only once," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin also discussed his job, the search for Osama bin Laden and weapons of mass destruction, and dismissed a hard link between the Sept. 11 attacks and Iran.
-he is not actively campaigning to be named the permanent CIA chief, but will serve as long as the president wants him to. McLaughlin said confirmation hearings for a new director "could be a rough passage" in a political year.
-the hunt for bin Laden has not been easy, but that the al-Qaida leader will be caught. "You remember a person shot a bunch of CIA employees out in front of our headquarters in 1993. It took us four years to catch him. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of September 11, it took us seven years to catch him. Bin Laden's time will come."
-that when it comes to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, "there will always be some ambiguity about whether they exist. But the longer we look, the more skeptical we have to be."
-said the CIA has known for some time that a number of the Sept. 11 hijackers were able to pass through Iran. But he said there is no evidence the government in Tehran supported this. Nothing suggests an official connection between Iran and the 2001 hijackings, he said.