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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 November, 2004, 01:39 GMT
'Turf war' brews over US intelligence
By Nick Childs
BBC Pentagon Correspondent

President Bush and congressional leaders say they will try again to pass a bill on intelligence reform which was blocked at the weekend by conservative Republicans said to be close to the Pentagon.

On the face of it, this looks like an embarrassing setback for President Bush. Speaking in Chile, where he has been attending the Asia-Pacific summit, he said: "I was disappointed that the bill didn't pass.

"I look forward to going back to Washington to work with the interested parties to get it passed".

But it was blocked on Saturday because of opposition from conservatives from Mr Bush's own Republican party and - it is said - his own defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Some observers describe it as an old-fashioned "turf war".

Rumsfeld reservations

The bill would create a new national director who would oversee all the US intelligence agencies.

Currently 80% of the estimated $40bn intelligence budget is controlled by the Pentagon.

So too are most of the key agencies which actually gather most of the intelligence, like the National Security Agency (NSA), which runs the US network of spy satellites.

Sceptics have questioned whether there's been a rush to reform for political reasons, and that mistakes could be made.
Mr Rumsfeld's aides strenuously deny that he has been lobbying behind the scenes against the bill.

But the Pentagon is known to have concerns that, as the biggest consumer of intelligence, the access of its commanders to information may be jeopardised in the future.

Supporters of the bill say the Pentagon's concerns have been addressed.

Mr Rumsfeld has himself insisted that he backs the president's position.

But he is known to have reservations about how intelligence reform is carried out.

Intelligence reform itself has considerable political momentum and sensitivity, because of the attacks of 11 September 2001.

The current bill is based on recommendations from the widely-applauded 9/11 Commission.

And indeed, there is an impatience among many in Congress to be seen to be acting, because of worries that US public opinion may react adversely to further delay.

Early test?

Embracing intelligence reform became an important test in the US presidential election campaign.

So both President Bush and his Democratic rival, John Kerry, endorsed the idea of creating a new national intelligence director.

But some sceptics have questioned whether there has been a rush to reform for political reasons, and that mistakes could be made.

Congressional leaders say they will try to get the bill passed again in early December.

So the next couple of weeks may reveal how committed President Bush is to this proposal. Some opponents are already calling it a key early test of his second term.

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