WASHINGTON – The United States needs a new national intelligence director who has oversight over all of the nation's intelligence agencies, the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recommends in its report to be released Thursday.
FOX News obtained a copy of the report, which is set to be released at 11:30 a.m. EDT. After its release, FOXNews.com will post online the report by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (search).
President Bush (search) was being briefed on the contents Thursday morning.
"They've done a really good job at learning about our country, learning what went wrong prior to Sept. 11 and making very solid, sound recommendations about how to move forward," Bush said at the White House as he received a formal copy of the report from the commission's chairmen, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton. "I assured them that where government needs to act, they will."
Bush also thanked the other commission members, saying they "have left their mark in a very constructive and positive way."
Kean, a Republican and a former New Jersey governor, thanked Bush for allowing him to serve as co-chief of the panel, which the president originally opposed creating.
"I thank you also on behalf of the commission for unprecedented access to documents, and cooperation from your administration," Kean added. "We were able to see things that no commission or no member of Congress had ever seen in doing our work. And we thank you for allowing us to do that."
Bush said the report is a "common sense" approach on how to move forward and he promised to move forward on its recommendations.
"There's still a threat and we in government have an obligation to do everything in our power to safeguard the American people," Bush said. "The most important duty we have is the security of our fellow countrymen."
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry received a 10-minute telephone briefing Thursday from the two chairmen.
A New Intelligence Chief
The proposed Cabinet-level national director of intelligence would have authority over the CIA, FBI and other agencies. The White House administration is reserving judgment on that recommendation, and officials doubt it could be approved by Congress this year.
Senior CIA officials said Wednesday that they were open to the report's recommendations but warned that they can't simply embrace a dramatic idea like an intelligence czar without lots of questions. They said the CIA has made changes for the better since the Sept. 11 attacks and they're worried some of the recommendations may roll back some of those advances.
The report did not, however, suggest setting up an American-style domestic spy agency within the FBI modeled after the British MI5 (search). It does, however, suggest the creation of a giant National Counterterrorism Center, which would pull together intelligence from all agencies and help facilitate the sharing of sensitive information.
The commission said that the MI5-type idea wasn't necessary since it would take away current counterterrorism and domestic functions currently held by the FBI and that it's not necessary if the counterterrorism center and national intelligence chief position are created.
The report also recommends unifying and strengthening congressional oversight of intelligence activities and strengthening the FBI and homeland defenders. The report also cites the need for more covert spies in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and some parts of Yemen where Al Qaeda is active and recruiting followers.
'Deep Institutional Failures'
The Sept. 11 commission found that both Presidents Clinton and Bush took the Al Qaeda threat seriously, and neither could be blamed with failing to prevent the attacks.
"Both presidents were genuinely concerned by the danger posed by Al Qaeda," an official familiar with the report told FOX News.
In addition, the now-infamous Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." was the first and only report referencing a domestic terror threat given to Bush, and was a response to the president's own inquiries.
The report found that Clinton and Bush administration officials were on alert for imminent threats from Al Qaeda (search).
The hijackers took advantage of those holes in the nation's terror-prevention system, the report said. Surveillance video showed that four of the five hijackers set off metal detectors at Dulles International Airport on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and managed to board American Airlines Flight 77 anyway.
An airport screener can be seen hand-checking the baggage of one hijacker in the video that was released on Wednesday. Another hijacker was seen being manually checked with a handheld metal detector by a screener after he set off a second alarm.
It is believed the hijackers were carrying on their person or in their baggage knives that they later used to hijack the flight, which crashed into the Pentagon at 9:39 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.
The report concludes that the systematic lapses that allowed the hijackers to plot the attacks without setting off alarms on the national level are ongoing, and that the United States, while safer, is still not safe.
The report also concludes there was a "failure of imagination" to provide either Bush or Clinton with new options — particularly military options — to deal with Al Qaeda, one administration official said.
The report lists a series of missed operational opportunities to stop the hijackers, such as the bungled attempts to kill or capture bin Laden and the FBI's handling of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested in August 2001 before the hijackings and has been accused of conspiring in the plot, the official said.
The Intel Czar Split
The idea of a national intelligence czar has split lawmakers and the intelligence community. Some lawmakers, for example, are worried that various committees may have to give up some oversight if the position is created.
"I don't think we need one more czar," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told FOX News. "If given the opportunity, we can coordinate those things," such as oversight and budgetary authority amongst the various agencies.
"Before we do anything substantial here — before we create a giant bureaucracy … we need to count to five and really study it very thoroughly before we do it," added former FBI special agent and Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating.
Ret. Navy Adm. Stansfield, a former CIA chief, noted that the position of director of central intelligence — formerly held by George Tenet, who recently resigned — already exists today to coordinate the 15 different intelligence agencies.
"All this proposed legislation is doing is giving that office — which does exist — a little more authority so it can actually do the coordination of those 15 agencies and ensure, for instance, they're at least talking to each other."
But Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and a former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said an intelligence chief is "an excellent idea" "long in the making."
"I hope that we will be able to do something about it in '05," Shelby told FOX News. "We can do better, we've got good people. I think it's a question of culture in the various agencies and the lack of sharing which is deep and probably not easily overcome."
Former Deputy FBI Director Skip Brandon said "somebody has to be in charge" of coordinating intelligence, since the DCI, he added, has very little authority over other parts of the intelligence community. "I don't think that's workable," he added.
Drawing Lessons From the Attacks
The Sept. 11 commission spent 20 months investigating how the hijackers were able to mount the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, killing nearly 3,000 people and demolishing the World Trade Center's twin towers. The 575-page report, culled from 2.5 million documents and 900 interviews with past and present government officials, is a "fascinating" document, one official told FOX News.
White House officials and congressional leaders were briefed Wednesday on the panel's findings.
Bush said then that he looked forward to reading the report and the administration is doing everything possible to prevent another terrorist attack.
"Had we had any inkling whatsoever that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America," he said. "I'm confident President Clinton would have done the same thing. Any president would."
FOX News' Jim Angle, Bret Baier, Catherine Herridge, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.