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Bush says he'll press intelligence overhaul

WASHINGTON -- President Bush yesterday said he would work with Congress to pass a bill overhauling the nation's intelligence services for the struggle against Islamist terror networks after Senate majority leader Bill Frist and other prominent Republicans said that the Pentagon and its allies among House GOP leaders were responsible for blocking the bill and that the president needed to get involved.

At a news conference after an economic summit in Chile, Bush said: ''I was disappointed the bill didn't pass. I thought it was going to pass up to the last minute."

Bush said he and Vice President Dick Cheney had talked with key members of the House and ''it was clear I wanted the bill passed." He did not respond directly to a question on whether opposition from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld contributed to the deadlock.

Bush noted that Congress would return for another effort in December. ''Hopefully, we'll get a bill done," he said. ''When I get home, I look forward to getting it done."

Earlier in the day, Frist said on the CBS news program ''Face the Nation": ''There is not general agreement between the Pentagon and members of the White House, and hopefully that can be resolved. For us to do the bill in early December, it will take significant involvement by the president and the vice president and the White House."

Congress was on the verge this weekend of passing the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which would unite most of the country's 15 spy agencies under a single national intelligence director, but the deal collapsed Saturday after a revolt by several powerful House Republicans allied with Rumsfeld, who is said to have resisted relinquishing authority over spy services now controlled by the military.

The proposal grew out of hearings before the 9/11 Commission in which intelligence officials testified that spy agencies did not share critical information and were slow to recognize the growing threat of Al Qaeda in the 1990s before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The commission recommended establishing an intelligence director with budgetary authority over all agencies, and pooling efforts in a joint national counterterrorism center.

But the military resisted giving up control over multibillion-dollar agencies that collect and analyze data such as satellite imagery and intercepted electronic communications. Congressional negotiators exempted much of those agencies' budgets from the control of the new intelligence director, but opponents still rejected the watered-down proposal, citing fears that confusion about who was in charge could endanger soldiers.

The deal's collapse, coming as the 108th Congress was about to adjourn, all but killed prospects for passing the changes this year and laid bare a postelection internal split among Republican Party leaders within the Bush administration and the GOP-controlled Congress.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said White House officials contributed to efforts to block the proposals. He added that the resistance was much broader than that put forth by House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, and House Judiciary chairman James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, who have been blamed for the deal's collapse.

''There's been a lot of opposition to this from the first," Roberts said on the ''FOX News Sunday" program. ''Some of it is turf. . . . Some of it is from the Pentagon. Some of it, quite frankly, is from the White House, despite what the president has said."

Republicans have let it be known that Bush called Sensenbrenner from Chile to get him to support the bill, and that Cheney called Hunter to urge his backing.

But Hunter and Sensenbrenner, the latter of whom objected to the removal of provisions against illegal immigration, refused to comply, and were supported by House majority leader Tom DeLay, a powerful Texas Republican. Although the measure probably still would have passed with support from Democratic legislators, it was kept from a vote Saturday by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois.

Democrats yesterday attacked Republican military allies as being out of Bush's control. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said on the CNN news program ''Late Edition" that Bush was failing a test of whether he would ''stand up, both to his own Defense Department and to the hard right."

Representative Jane Harman of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ''FOX News Sunday" that it was ''unfortunate that the president, as commander in chief, couldn't get the secretary of defense to stop his opposition, which has been ongoing for months and which emboldened some of these House folks to dig in."

But others speculated that Hunter and Sensenbrenner may be taking public blame for actions that the White House privately supports.

They noted that Bush initially was less than enthusiastic about the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and endorsed them only after his Democratic opponent, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, made them an issue in the presidential campaign.

Figures in the Bush administration who adhere to a hard-line, defense-dominated view of national power, such as Rumsfeld and Cheney, may have quietly signaled to House members that they could block the bill without fear of punishment, said P.J. Crowley, a National Security Council official in the Clinton era.

''It's hard to believe that with a conservative president looking ahead to a second term, he would be defeated on something he felt was central to his ability to keep the United States safe," Crowley said. ''I'm inclined to think that this is one the administration gave rhetorical support to but did not invest a great deal of political capital in."

Congress will reconvene Dec. 6 to take up the matter, but several legislators and analysts said the effort probably will have to start from scratch when the 109th Congress takes office in January.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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