The recommendation is expected from a government task force on interrogation methods that plans to send some of its findings to the White House on Tuesday.
The official said the panel has concluded that the unit of intelligence and law enforcement agencies should be created. Also, the official said the task force is unsure which agencies should have a role, though the CIA and FBI are expected to be important players.
The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the task force's work and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, said President Barack Obama "has not reviewed the recommendations of the task force." The spokesman declined to discuss any findings.
The recommendation to create the unit was first reported in Saturday's Wall Street Journal.
The official said the unit's primary purpose would be intelligence-gathering, rather than building criminal cases for prosecution. The structure would depart significantly from such work under the Bush administration, when the CIA had the lead and sometimes exclusive role in questioning al-Qaida suspects.
The task force has not reached a conclusion as to which agency should lead the unit or where it should be based.
Obama signed executive orders when he took office in January calling for government task forces to recommend future policies for interrogating and detaining suspected terrorists. The deadline for those recommendations is Tuesday, but the work will now take more time.