WASHINGTON – President Bush, under election-year pressure to revamp the nation's intelligence-gathering system to help thwart terrorist attacks, is preparing to act on reforms suggested by the Sept. 11 commission.
Bush plans to issue orders early this week, perhaps Monday, to implement recommendations outlined in the commission's report, which highlighted lapses in intelligence that left America vulnerable to the 2001 attacks.
The subject takes on special currency with the announcement Sunday by authorities that they had uncovered a plot by the Al Qaeda terror network to attack five prominent financial institutions in New York City, Washington and Newark, N.J.
Presidential advisers say the administration is not opposed to the panel's most overarching recommendation for a national director of intelligence (search), but were weighing whether the post should be placed inside the White House.
Bush will embrace the recommendations, "but that doesn't mean everything is going to be exactly the same" as the panel has suggested, a senior administration official said Sunday on condition of anonymity.
Currently, the CIA director not only heads his own agency but also oversees the U.S. 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 in the Defense Department (search).
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 (search), which the commission envisions as a joint operational planning and intelligence center staffed by personnel from all the spy agencies.
The commission says both should be established within the Executive Office of the President.
But, said another senior official, who also demanded anonymity: "We want to ensure that the intelligence operators and analysts maintain their autonomy," and "that has to be a key consideration at the issue of where you place either of those."
The administration claims it has already taken steps that respond to some of the 40 recommendations the commission outlined in its 567-page report, released July 22, that highlighted intelligence lapses that led to the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The White House has issued 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, it said Bush's senior advisers were preparing recommendations on how best to move forward in the following areas:
— Hire and train more people 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 federal budget to let the public know how much money 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 strategies used by the Northern Command (search), the only military command focusing solely on defending U.S. soil.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, who has given a blanket endorsement to all the commission's recommendations, accused the administration of dragging its feet on intelligence reform.
"I think this administration has dropped the ball on homeland security," Kerry told "Fox News Sunday." "I think they are now moving to catch up. But what America wants is leadership that's ahead of the curve, that doesn't have to be told by an independent commission — which they, incidentally, fought to prevent."