President Bush will issue orders as early as Monday to implement some reforms suggested by the Sept. 11 commission, but White House officials still are wrangling over the best way to create a new national intelligence czar.
Presidential advisers crafting the reforms Bush is to announce are not opposed to the panel's idea for a national director of intelligence, but were still deciding whether the post should be placed inside the White House, a senior administration official said Sunday on condition of anonymity.
The president will embrace the recommendations, "but that doesn't mean everything is going to be exactly the same" as the panel has suggested, the official said.
Some former intelligence officials worry about establishing another layer of bureaucracy atop the intelligence community. Some members of Congress are warning against knee-jerk acceptance of some of the panel's more overarching recommendations without lengthy evaluation.
Much of the discussion so far has centered on where in the government flow chart to place a new national director of intelligence and a National Counterterrorism Center, a place the panel foresees as being a joint operational planning and intelligence center staffed by personnel from all the intelligence agencies. The commission says they both should be within the Executive Office of the President.
"We want to ensure that the intelligence operators and analysts maintain their autonomy," another senior administration official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. "I think that has got to be a key consideration when you look at the issue of where you place either of those."
Currently, the CIA director not only heads his own agency but also oversees the intelligence community, which has grown to 15 agencies. But the director has neither budgetary authority nor day-to-day operational control of the other agencies, most of which are part of the Defense Department.
Homeland security is a key issue in this year's presidential race, and the Bush administration is under pressure to show that it is doing all it can to safeguard the nation from another terrorist attack. Bush, who wants to be seen as moving forward on intelligence reform, also is under pressure from the 10 members of the Sept. 11 commission, who begin a national tour this week to share their report with the public and draw attention to the need to overhaul U.S. intelligence system.
"We need one human being who's responsible for making sure all that information is shared, and one person who can report directly to the president about it," Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards said on "Fox News Sunday."
"Because of the strengthening of congressional oversight, which is part of the recommendation of the 9/11 commission, I think this thing will work," Edwards said in backing the national intelligence director post. "In addition to that, they've also made a recommendation about making sure we put an oversight body in charge of civil liberties."
The Bush administration claims it has already taken steps that respond to some of the 40 recommendations the panel outlines in its 567-page report, which outlined intelligence lapses that led to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The White House has released its own 20-page report listing actions the administration has taken consistent with the recommendations.
In addition to proposals for the national director of intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center, the report said the president's senior advisers were preparing recommendations on how best to move forward in the following areas:
-Hire and training more humans to collect intelligence.
-Set standards for issuing birth certificates and other forms of identification, such as driver's licenses, to reduce fraud.
-Disclose now-secret parts of the U.S. budget to let the public know how much is being spent on intelligence.
-Shift the lead responsibility for directing and executing paramilitary operations, both clandestine and covert, to the Defense Department.
-Improve and set common standards for information-sharing throughout the intelligence community.
-Speed up national security appointments during administration changeovers.
-Set up a national security work force at the FBI comprising analysts, linguists and surveillance specialists to concentrate on national security.
-Regularly assess the adequacy of the new Northern Command's strategy to defend the United States against military threats, the only military command focusing solely on defending U.S. soil.