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White House reviewing rules governing CIA

Powell said a 1976 executive order forbidding assassination "is under review."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Bush administration officials are reviewing all the rules governing CIA and other intelligence activities abroad, ranging from the ban on assassinations to rules mandating that informants be checked for their criminal and human rights records, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told CNN on Sunday.

Powell said the executive order signed in 1976 by President Gerald Ford forbidding assassination "is under review." Critics charge lifting the order would reduce U.S. moral prestige around the world and make U.S. officials from the president down less safe.

Powell said in many respects it will be "an intelligence war ... and a law enforcement war" against the Al Qaeda organization headed by suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

U.S. President George W. Bush has named bin Laden as the "prime suspect' in Tuesday's hijacking attacks on New York and Washington that left thousands dead or missing.

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Senior Republicans on Capitol Hill told CNN on Wednesday that the rules on checking informants' pasts before hiring them will likely be abolished by legislation, if the executive branch does not act soon.

In a related development Sunday, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said he plans to introduce a bill creating an "Office of Counter-terrorism" at the White House with broad power to direct the federal government's efforts to fight terrorism.

"We need to have someone who has the ability to establish a national program, allocate resources, and be held accountable for our response against terrorism," said Senate Intelligence Chairman Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida.

The new office would have powers to direct counter-terrorism efforts patterned after the powers the Office of Drug Control Policy has to direct anti-drug efforts, according Paul Anderson, the spokesman for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The head of the drug office is often referred to as the "drug czar."

Anderson said the new office would have "broad budget authority" to direct counter-terrorism efforts by various agencies, including the FBI and the CIA.

Graham said he intends to introduce the legislation as soon as Congress reconvenes on Thursday.

Stung by charges in some quarters of a massive intelligence failure, a U.S. intelligence official said "we didn't win this battle, but we will win the war".

The official said the public does not realize how many "hundreds, possibly thousands" of lives have been saved by counter-terrorism efforts in recent years. Former CIA operatives say changing the rules on assassinations or recruiting will not help against the key problem: how hard it is to penetrate terrorist cells.

However, intelligence officials say more money for additional case officers and with which to pay off informants and agents "could certainly help". House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Porter Goss, R-Florida, told CNN he believes U.S. intelligence has been "underfunded and under-resourced" for a decade.

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