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Inside Politics

White House mulls new top intelligence post

Administration awaiting 9/11 panel's recommendations

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House is considering the creation of a powerful new post to oversee all of the nation's intelligence agencies, Bush administration officials said Friday.

President Bush, however, wants to wait for the recommendations of the 9/11 commission and his administration intelligence review before deciding whether to include such a post among a planned intelligence overhaul, these officials said.

"We need to see what the recommendations are," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said when asked if Bush is thinking of taking action before the 9/11 commission's report this summer.

McClellan did not rule out earlier action if the administration comes to the conclusion some steps are critical to national security, but he said it is the president's strong preference "to see the recommendations first."

Bush said much the same during his news conference Tuesday night.

"I'm open for suggestions," Bush said then. "I look forward to seeing what the 9/11 commission comes up with."

U.S. intelligence operations came under harsh review at public hearings this week by the 9/11 commission. A report described an unwieldy and poorly coordinated system of intelligence gathering and said it remains unclear as to "who is in charge of intelligence." (Full story)

Separately, a presidential advisory panel headed by former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft recommended last year the new post of director of national intelligence, with the power to control the budgets and management of 15 intelligence agencies and offices scattered throughout the government.

Such a proposal faces resistance within the Pentagon and CIA. Members of the 9/11 panel have not said want they want to see, but several commissioners have hinted at an interest in a more centralized operation.

During this week's 9/11 hearings, the commission raised pointed questions about intelligence operations, and several panel members indicated they wanted some changes.

For example, commission Chairman Thomas Kean said he is concerned that U.S. intelligence, as structured, isn't providing the president with the kind of information he needs.

"I think there's a real question in my mind and I think of several other commissioners as to whether the president's getting decent information, as to whether the president's getting the kind of thing the president needs to make the kind of decisions that the president every day has to make," Kean said.

Some lawmakers also have voiced support for a new domestic type intelligence agency, similar to Great Britain's MI-5.

Currently, the CIA director is responsible for coordinating the intelligence operations of a "loose collection" of other agencies and offices, as described by the commission report.

One senior administration official called creating a new post "a prominent proposal." Another official called it a "leading idea."

But both officials said there is no proposal yet -- either for a powerful new intelligence post or other possible reforms -- at the presidential decision-making level.

Asked if Bush is leaning in favor of proposing a director of national intelligence, McClellan said, "I would not describe it that way."

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