Sat, Dec 18, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US intelligence system set for biggest shift in 50 years

BILL CEREMONY The new law signed yesterday creates a structure aimed at getting 15 agencies to work together to protect the nation from attack

AP , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush addresses a panel discussion during the White House Conference on the Economy in Washington on Thursday.

PHOTO: AFP

US President George W. Bush is signing into law the largest overhaul of US intelligence gathering in 50 years, hoping to improve the spy network that failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

The 563-page bill, which endured a tortured path to congressional passage, also aims to tighten borders and aviation security. It creates a federal counterterrorism center and a new intelligence director, but Bush was not expected to fill that post at yesterday's bill signing.

The new structure was designed to help the nation's 15 intelligence agencies work together to protect the country from attacks like the ones that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Penn-sylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Sept. 11 Commission said in its report that disharmony among the intelligence agencies contributed to the inability of government officials to prevent the attacks.

The government failed to recognize the danger posed by al-Qaeda and was ill-prepared to respond to the terrorist threat, the report concluded.

Commission members and families of attack victims lobbied persistently for the legislation through the summer political conventions, the election and a postelection lame duck session of Congress.

The bill was threatened over disagreements between the White House and key House Republicans about immigration issues and how the new national intelligence director would work with the military.

Bush was criticized for not engaging aggressively enough with members of his own party to break the impasse. Pundits questioned what that meant for the president's ability to gain approval from a Republican-controlled Congress for his ambitious second-term agenda.

But in the final days, he and Vice President Dick Cheney pushed hard for the legislation, and both the House and Senate passed it overwhelmingly.

The new law includes a host of anti-terrorism provisions, such as letting officials wiretap "lone wolf" terrorists and improving airline baggage screening procedures.

The measure is the biggest change to US intelligence gathering and analysis since the creation of the CIA after World War II.0

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