US congress introduces intelligence reform

1.00pm

WASHINGTON - Leading Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress introduced legislation on Tuesday that would create a new intelligence director and implement other recommendations of the September 11 commission.

The bill is one of a number that lawmakers will consider in the rush to enact intelligence reform legislation ahead of the November 2 congressional and presidential elections. The legislation would implement all of the intelligence overhaul recommendations made by the commission.

"By introducing this legislation today, we ensure that the commendable, and I might say remarkable, work of the 9/11 Commission has a real opportunity to be debated and enacted," said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who co-sponsored the bill with Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat.

Similar legislation was being introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, and Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat.

Revamping US spy agencies is expected to dominate Congress in the run-up to the elections as lawmakers push to act on reforms after the September 11 commission found major failures in intelligence gathering and sharing information before the attacks against the World Trade Centre and Pentagon.

The US intelligence community has also been faulted for its handling of information on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction ahead of the US invasion. No such weapons have been found.

The September 11 commission recommended creating a new national director to oversee the 15 spy agencies and proposed a new counterterrorism centre. The bill introduced on Tuesday would implement those and other proposed changes and give the new intelligence director control over most of the roughly US$40 billion intelligence budget. The Pentagon now controls about 80 per cent of that money.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, listed intelligence reform as one of the Senate's top priorities before the elections along with confirming Rep Porter Goss, a Florida Republican, as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said her panel would be prepared to act on intelligence reform legislation during the week of September 20. In a statement she said the Sept. 11 commission legislation was one of a number of measures being considered as the panel prepares its own bill for action.

- REUTERS

Herald Feature: September 11

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