The White House has drafted executive orders aimed at implementing the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations for a more powerful intelligence director and a new national counterterrorism center.
Bush administration and congressional officials said yesterday that drafts of executive orders are circulating within an interagency group for approval. One of the officials said the White House is floating three proposals and asking for feedback by today. The orders would:
* Enhance the powers of the government's intelligence chief and create a national intelligence director.
* Form a national counterterrorism center, putting that office under the new intelligence director and giving the director the power to decide who runs it.
* Improve information sharing by intelligence agencies.
One congressional official said an executive order being circulated would give the CIA director the title of national intelligence director, a position recommended by the Sept. 11 commission. The CIA director currently oversees all 15 of the nation's intelligence agencies.
The official also said the White House has asked for the quick feedback with the hopes of making an announcement before the start of the Republican National Convention on Monday, perhaps as soon as this week.
Debate over how to reshape the intelligence community in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks and the flawed prewar intelligence on Iraq picked up steam after the release of the commission's 567-page report, which detailed events surrounding the attacks and more than 40 recommendations to reform the government.
Relevant congressional committees have been working through the August recess to draft legislation to implement intelligence reforms. Even with the president's actions, Congress is expected to continue its work on legislation to overhaul U.S. intelligence.
Two senators working on such legislation said yesterday that a new intelligence chief should have significant and clear power over the budget. The powers given to that chief -- both over policy and the purse -- has been an area of significant debate in Congress.
"My support for providing significant budget authority for the new national intelligence director has been strengthened," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. She spoke after a closed hearing with senior officials from the Pentagon, the CIA and the FBI.
Added the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.): "A strong case was made that if you are going to create a national intelligence director, it can't be a phony, it can't be cosmetic. It's got to be real, and the way to make it real in this town is with budget authority."
Collins and Lieberman are working to present an intelligence bill to the full Senate by the end of September. Lieberman said the goal is to win passage before Congress leaves for the November elections.
Both senators said they welcome ideas from other lawmakers about how best to restructure intelligence operations. That includes a plan by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) that would break up the CIA and remove several intelligence agencies from the Pentagon.