President Bush is preparing executive orders and a speech detailing his initial plans for revamping the nation's intelligence services, administration officials said Wednesday. He is likely to begin his announcements within days, the officials said.
Bush is working at his ranch during the Democratic National Convention. He conferred by secure videoconference with his national security team for the second time this week to work on a response to the recommendations delivered July 22 by the commission investigating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Later, several members of his national security team met at the White House to discuss the proposed reforms.
Bush is facing daily pressure to act from Sen. John F. Kerry, his Democratic opponent. Kerry gave his blanket endorsement to the commission's proposals within 48 hours and has called for the panel to remain in business for 18 more months to monitor the report's implementation.
Bush's aides have not endorsed any extension and have signaled a more deliberative approach to the recommendations on restructuring 15 intelligence agencies. White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy told reporters Wednesday that Bush "will waste no time" if he can act to make the nation safer but that his staff is continuing to analyze the report.
"There are recommendations that have the potential to be put into place quickly," Duffy said. "But these are very big issues."
In another sign of gathering political momentum for an intelligence revamping, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) announced that "at least six" House committees would hold a total of 15 hearings about the commission report during the August recess. The first is set for Friday, when commission co-chairmen Thomas H. Kean (R) and Lee H. Hamilton (D) will appear before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
After initially striking a cautious tone, GOP leaders are working to prepare legislation for consideration as early as September. That is partly because of pressure from Democrats and from commission members of both parties.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized Hastert yesterday for not keeping the House in session last Friday, the day after the report was released.
"What they said to the American people was, 'Wait six weeks and we'll be back' " from the scheduled summer recess, Pelosi said in an interview in Boston at the Democratic convention. "Six weeks is an eternity. There has to be legislation" enacted before the Nov. 2 election, she said.
Hamilton said that he and other commission members will vocally oppose any attempt by the Bush administration or Congress to make major changes in their recommendations.
"We believe that the reforms are a package and that if some are broken off, then the result is that you diminish the impact of our recommendations," Hamilton said in an interview Wednesday. "You end up with something of less value."
The commission's report documented a failure of U.S. intelligence before the Sept. 11 attacks and urged a series of steps aimed at better coordination. It urged the appointment of a national intelligence director who would oversee not just the CIA but also the other 14 agencies that make up the intelligence community.
The panel also recommended establishing a national counterterrorism center to supervise and coordinate the government's intelligence operations, both in the United States and abroad.
Hamilton said the commission is considering Kerry's proposal to extend the commission's lifespan by 18 months. But one Republican panel member, former White House counsel Fred Fielding, said that a formal extension is "a bad idea" and that the commission is working on other ways to stay involved in the debate.
Kean and other panel members have vowed to meet within the next year to assess the impact of their recommendations. They are planning cross-country appearances to drum up support for their proposed changes.
Kean and others are also working to raise private foundation money that could be used to fund such a campaign, panel officials said. Relatives of Sept. 11 victims, meanwhile, said they were preparing to monitor publicly the positions of lawmakers on the plan's major tenets and to lobby those in opposition. Under the law that created it, the commission will go out of existence Aug. 26.
One week after its release, "The 9/11 Commission Report" remains atop bestseller lists and has entered its second printing, according to publisher W.W. Norton. The initial printing was 600,000 copies, and 200,000 more have been ordered. The commission's Web site, which includes free access to the report, has logged more than 50 million visits, panel spokesman Al Felzenberg said.
The House committees planning hearings include Armed Services, Financial Services, Government Reform, homeland security, intelligence and International Relations. The intelligence committee announced a tentative schedule of four hearings in August, including testimony by Kean and Hamilton.
A list of other possible witnesses included former CIA director George J. Tenet, Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, former White House counterterrorism coordinator Richard A. Clarke and many others. Committee officials said none of those witnesses had been confirmed. The Senate Armed Services Committee also plans August hearings.
Eggen reported from Washington. Staff writer Charles Babington in Boston contributed to this report.