Bush Reacts

President George W. Bush has ordered a high-level White House review of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and wants to begin implementing some of them "within weeks," a senior White House official told NEWSWEEK.

Just one day after the commission proposed a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism community, Bush directed White House chief of staff Andrew Card to immediately convene a group of top cabinet members to review the proposals and "discuss implementation," a top White House official said.

"He's expecting action in weeks," said Frances Fragos Townsend, deputy national-security adviser for counterterrorism, who will help oversee the review.

The action comes despite reservations among some senior officials about the wisdom of some of the major commission proposals, including one to create a presidentially appointed cabinet-level national intelligence director--separate from the CIA director--with authority over the entire U.S. intelligence community.

Another proposal that has raised concerns is to create a National Counter-Terrorism Center within the White House that would serve as a "unified command" post that would have the authority to conduct "joint operational planning" for activities of the FBI, CIA and other agencies.

Commission members, led by chairman Thomas Kean and vice chair Lee Hamilton, today launched an all-out lobbying campaign on behalf of the proposals, telling reporters in a round of interviews that the changes made by the Bush administration so far are still not adequate to deal with the terrorist threat and that the country needs to act quickly to protect against future attacks.

"The fragmentation and lack of information sharing [among the agencies] is still not adequate," Kean told a group of reporters. "All these agencies have got to change ... Time is not our side. We believe unless we implement these recommendations we are going to make ourselves more vulnerable to a terrorist attack."

Commission members, aware of resistance from some within the administration and the Congress, plan to continue their lobbying--even after the panel formally goes out of business within the next few weeks. They have informally agreed to stay in touch and even issue a "report card" to determine how the administration and Congress have responded over the next year. "As John Paul Jones said, we have not yet begun to fight," Tim Roemer, another commissioner, told NEWSWEEK.

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge has already said that the creation of a new national intelligence director is not needed and privately some administration officials have wondered about the wisdom of a cabinet member with direct responsibility for intelligence matters. One official, alluding to the controversy over prewar Iraq intelligence, questioned how having a cabinet member close to the president overseeing intelligence would "make it less political." Similar questions have been raised about having a White House office that would be directly involved in operational planning of law-enforcement and intelligence actions.

Officials said today it was still unclear how many of the commission's recommendations could be implemented by executive order of the president and how many would require congressional approval, which might be difficult to obtain this year. But officials indicated the president wants to implement as many as possible by executive order. The White House review overseen by Card will consist of National Security Council "principals"--meaning cabinet members such as Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as FBI Director Robert Mueller and acting CIA director John McLaughlin.