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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 01:25 GMT
Bush orders review of spy forces
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CIA paramilitary units often carry out the most sensitive actions
US President George W Bush has ordered an internal review into whether the Pentagon should take over CIA secret paramilitary operations, officials say.

The recommendation was made by the 9/11 panel, as part of a package of reforms to overhaul the intelligence community.

The directive reportedly asks the CIA and the State, Defence and Justice Departments to report back in 90 days.

Meanwhile Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has denied blocking a bill on intelligence reform.

'Complex issue'

CIA paramilitary units are authorised to conduct the most sensitive actions.

Such forces were involved in the earliest stages of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and have operated covertly inside Pakistan searching for Osama Bin Laden, according to US military officials cited by CNN.

Mr Bush asked the government departments to report back on "whether or not the paramilitary operations, currently under the control of the CIA, should be transferred to the Department of Defence", a senior administration official told Reuters news agency.

The review will also look at whether the military's special operations forces should have a role in CIA paramilitary operations, the New York Times reports.

We are undertaking the study with open minds
Pentagon spokesman

Special operations forces and paramilitary units of the intelligence agency already work together in some groups around the world, the newspaper reports.

But only the intelligence agency paramilitary units are authorised to conduct the most sensitive covert operations, under presidential directives known as findings, the Times says.

Correspondents say top officials at the CIA and the Pentagon have been cool to the idea of giving the special operations forces such a large role in paramilitary operations.

They add that Mr Rumsfeld has not been enthusiastic about making any change.

"Since this is a complex issue, we want to study it closely with the intelligence community to better understand it," a Pentagon spokesman told Reuters news agency.

"We don't have any preordained or preferred solutions in mind. We are undertaking the study with open minds," he added.

'Battle of power'

Mr Rumsfeld has also denied that he lobbied behind the scenes to scupper a bill on intelligence reform supported by President Bush.

Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld said President Bush's position is 'evolving'
The BBC's Pentagon correspondent Nick Childs says a vote in Congress on the bill was blocked at the weekend by conservative Republicans said to be close to the Defence Department.

The Pentagon controls some 80% of the estimated $40bn US intelligence budget.

At a department news conference, Mr Rumsfeld described Mr Bush's position as "evolving".

President Bush has given public backing to the bill, which would create a new national director to oversee all US intelligence.

There has been a groundswell of support for intelligence reform in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, our correspondent adds.

But our correspondent notes it is known that the Pentagon has been uneasy about aspects of the proposals.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Richard Myers, also told reporters he stood by concerns he had raised about the need to preserve the link between intelligence and US forces.

Some observers see these arguments as a classic Washington battle of power and a key test of Mr Bush's commitment to the intelligence reform process, our correspondent adds.

Did Donald Rumsfeld lobby against Bush's bill?

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