WASHINGTON – While lawmakers haggle over passing a new intelligence bill, President Bush is making an aggressive effort in the War on Terror (search), insisting on changes at the Pentagon in response to recommendations made by the Sept. 11 commission (search).
He also has directed the CIA and FBI to implement the commission's recommendations
Late Tuesday, the White House released memos dated Nov. 18 that have Bush ordering an interagency group from the State, Justice and Defense departments and the CIA to devise a plan that could expand the Pentagon's role in covert operations (search) — a function the CIA traditionally performs.
"Lead responsibility for directing and executing paramilitary operations, whether clandestine or covert, should shift to the Defense Department. There it should be consolidated with the capabilities for training, direction, and execution of such operations already being developed in the Special Operation Command," the president wrote in a memorandum to the affected Cabinet secretaries and director of intelligence.
The president also set a 90-day deadline for review of any matters relating to this decision and "whether and to what extent implementation of the recommendation is in the interest of the United States and what changes to law, executive orders, other presidential guidance, or policies would be necessary to implement such advice."
The report will determine if the military's special operations forces can play a role in paramilitary operations that a special CIA unit carries out. The president also issued two other directives last week that order the CIA and FBI to provide a report to him by February on how they would improve their role in the War on Terror. In the meantime, the two agencies are directed to improve collection, processing, analysis and distribution of information relevant to homeland and national security.
It also tells the CIA director to emphasize rebuilding the CIA's analytic capabilities; transforming the clandestine service by building its human intelligence capabilities; developing a stronger language program, recruiting a diverse collection of officers who can "blend more easily" abroad and ensuring operators understand the data they receive.
Senior defense officials told FOX News that the White House had ordered the study into the effectiveness of covert and paramilitary operations and techniques and how those operations can be made more effective — perhaps by ceding some of the paramilitary duties now tasked to the CIA over to the Pentagon.
These senior officials, however, insist that this is a "study," and no one involved — including people at the Pentagon and CIA — are walking into the process with "preconceived ideas."
"The president asked that we look at this to understand and address the specifics of this issue," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told FOX News.
Transferring paramilitary operations to the Pentagon was among the changes recommended by the independent panel probing the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The U.S. military already provides support to some CIA requests by utilizing special forces like the Green Berets, Navy Seals and Delta Force members.
CIA units were among the first to hit the ground in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks and they have since cooperated with Army and Navy special forces in a variety of missions, not the least of which has been the hunt for Usama bin Laden (search) and other Al Qaeda leaders as well as the successful capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
But, some in the White House view these techniques as needing improvement, and defense and intelligence officials have 90 days to assess current methods and offer recommendations. Among the future possibilities would be the Pentagon taking much more of a lead role in covert missions.
"We're looking for the best way to handle covert ops, be that through the CIA or the DoD," Whitman said.
On protecting the homeland, FOX News also learned that defense officials informed Congress on Monday that they have a plan for Washington, D.C., and 10 other cities to create new weapons of mass destruction civil support teams (search) (WMD-CSTs). The creation of these teams is a final step toward fulfilling a congressional request that every state and territory have such a team.
The eleven teams that will be funded in the Defense Appropriations Act (search) for fiscal year 2005 are located in the District of Columbia, Delaware, Guam, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont and Wyoming.
According to the Defense Department, Congress authorized the first WMD-CSTs in the Defense Appropriations Act in fiscal year 1999. Currently, 32 certified teams are stationed throughout the United States and 12 additional teams are working toward certification. The new teams will bring the total number of WMD-CSTs to 55.
WMD-CSTs are able to deploy rapidly to assist local first responders in determining the nature of an attack, providing medical and technical advice and paving the way for identification and arrival of follow-on state and federal response assets, according to the Defense Department.
Each team consists of 22 highly skilled, full-time members of the Army and Air National Guard who are federally resourced, trained and evaluated, but fall under the command and control of their respective governors. The initiative is part of the department's overall effort to support local, state and federal civil authorities in the event of an incident involving weapons of mass destruction in the United States.
FOX News' Bret Baier, Ian McCaleb and Kelly Wright contributed to this report.