President Bush said yesterday he has not decided whether he will nominate a new CIA director before the November election.
The agency's current head, George J. Tenet, leaves his post Sunday, his seventh anniversary at the agency. Poised to take over as acting director is his deputy, John E. McLaughlin, 61.
Asked whether he planned to wait until after the election to name Tenet's replacement, Bush said: "I haven't made up my mind on the nomination process."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) is said to be the front-runner. Washington insiders have speculated for a month about who else may be in the running: Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage; former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.); Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.); retired Adm. William O. Studeman, a former National Security Agency director; and perhaps McLaughlin.
Among factors the White House must weigh when deciding whom to name -- and when -- is whether a confirmation process before the election would draw attention to intelligence failures and how it would be perceived should an attack occur with only an acting director in place.
Bush, who spoke during an Oval Office meeting with Prime Minister David Oddsson of Iceland, declined to comment about an upcoming report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is expected to be highly critical of the intelligence community's assessments of Saddam Hussein's weapons capability in the months preceding the war in Iraq.
"I will wait for the report," Bush said. "I will look at the whole report."
Bush, however, added that Hussein harbored terrorists and was a threat to his people and the region.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also declined to comment.